Table of Contents
From the Editor
Innocents Death Row Watch
Free at Last
Heroes at the Bar
Volume 1 Issue 2 First Published 3/8/99
Shareef Cousin At sixteen,
Shareef Cousin was sentenced to die. Wrongly convicted, he was forced to live four years
of his young life in the infamous Louisiana Death Row. Read his amazing story.
Lee Barnett He dealt with drug dealers and all kinds of
questionable people in spite of being a talented artist, aspiring inventor and amateur
geologist. Barnett did some bad things, but says he was framed for Richard Eggett's
murder. You be the judge, and see if the declarations below his story persuade you that he
is innocent. Many people are not "saints," but that doesn't mean they are
killers who should be on death row.
Martin Yant This Month's Champion of the Innocent. Private
Investigator and Author Martin Yant exposed injustice... and paid for it.
Shasta Roever "...I was crying loudly and begging Ian,
"Come back to me!" "Come back!" "Don't you dare die on me!"
After a while, it finally dawned on me that my CPR efforts weren't doing anything.... This
was the man I loved!"
Thomas Harris The seven year nightmare Thomas Harris has been
forced to call "life" is a fantastic tale that begins with the best intentions
and ends with an innocent man behind bars.
Anthony Porter An IQ of 51 qualified Anthony Porter for a
hearing to see if he was competent enough to be killed by the state. After 17 years on
death row, the first break came for Porter when Professor Protess and his students showed
the state that another man had committed the crime for which Anthony Porter might have
John Stoll The child who swayed the jury to convict Stoll had
never been in Stoll's home. Under questioning, this child told the court it is okay to
lie, that he did not know what the oath was, and that it is okay to make a mistake in
facts while testifying. In spite of no physical or medical evidence to support a claim of
child sex abuse, Stoll was convicted.
Patrick Swiney Patrick Swiney's
case is an unusual one to appear on these pages. For one thing, both innocence and
possible guilt are discussed. This dilemma has to do with Patrick's claim that he was
knocked unconscious before the murder happened. For another, Patrick has supporters, but
he has not gathered enough support, and if you feel he merits it, we urge you to help with
the easy task Sherry Swiney asks. As you will see, this case has more twists and turns
than a maze: the DA and Swiney were once classmates, and was he in love with Swiney's
wife? Patrick was exposing corruption, and could that be the reason the possibly
incriminating DNA samples were destroyed? Nothing short of a true investigation should
have been done, but it never happened. Patrick could well be innocent. You be the judge.
Guest Editorial--This month we are fortunate to
have Part One of an introduction to Hans Sherrer's book "The Innocents: the
prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment of the innocent". Look for Part Two next
month. (Volume 1 Issue 3)
Snapshots--The wrongly convicted
in the news--Articles from Volume 1 Issue 2.
Will Justice Be Done?
by Stormy Thoming-Gale with Kira Caywood
At sixteen, Shareef Cousin was sentenced to die. Wrongly convicted, he was forced to live
four years of his young life in the infamous Louisiana Death Row. Read his amazing story.
More and more children are landing on Death Row to await
the end of their short lives. When we think about who is on Death Row, we invariably think
of hardened criminals. Those who have committed heinous crimes. Those with a rap sheet as
long as they are tall. The dregs of society. The new residents of Death Row often defy the
stereotype. So it is with Shareef Cousin. This is his story.
According to the prosecution, at 10:26 PM, on May 2, 1995,
in New Orleans, three men approached Michael Gerardi as he exited a restaurant with his
date. One man shot him in the face, then appeared to pick his pockets. Michael's date,
Connie Babin, fled and called police.
At that moment Shareef was in a car with three of his
basketball teammates being driven home by their coach, Eric White. They had just finished
a basketball game that had begun at 9:30 PM. Coach White verified that he dropped Shareef
off at home at approximately 10:45 PM.
With an alibi like that, how did Shareef wind up, at 16
years old, the youngest member of Death Row?
At the time the murder was committed, a young man named
James Rowell, a former friend of Shareef's, was in jail having been arrested on nine
counts of armed robbery. When his lawyer asked if James had any information that might
reduce his sentence, he fingered Shareef for the murder. At Shareef's trial nine months
later, James completely recanted, and testified that he'd only said what his lawyer and
the prosecutors had told him to say.
The prosecution quickly went to work on creating a
murderer. Shareef was their man. There was absolutely no evidence
against Shareef! No weapon, blood, fibers, fingerprints or any other physical evidence
linked Shareef Cousin to the crime. How did they do it?
They left out the inconsistent testimony of Connie Babin,
Eyewitness. On the night of the murder, Connie told police that in all the confusion, she
doubted she could identify the killer. She did say he was shorter than Michael. Shareef is
four inches taller.
Three days later, in a formal, taped police interview,
Connie replied to the question of whether or not she could identify the killer, "I
don't know. It was dark, and I didn't have my contacts or my glasses, so I'm coming at
this at a disadvantage."
At Shareef's trial, Connie claimed to be "100%
certain" that Shareef was the killer. The thing that was causing the prosecution the
most trouble was Shareef's solid alibi. The solution? Suppress the information.
Coach Eric White testified that he was giving Shareef
Cousin and three other players a ride home from a basketball game (which was videotaped)
during the time of the murder. In a taped interview with prosecutors, he said that the
game started at 9:30 PM. Since games typically last 40 minutes, Shareef hardly could have
played the game, crossed town and committed murder by 10:26 PM. When the tape was played
in court, Coach White charged that the prosecution had altered it to say the game ended at
9:30 PM. The judge did not allow him to elaborate on his protest.
The three teammates who rode with Shareef and Coach White
were waiting outside the courtroom to testify on Shareef's behalf. When defense lawyers
were ready to call them, they had disappeared. Too late, the defense found out that
prosecutors had relocated the boys to the DA's air-conditioned office, supposedly to
provide relief from the hot weather. This happened during one of the coldest Januarys in
New Orleans history.
Two referees who participated in the game reaffirmed to
prosecutors that the game had started at 9:30 PM, but their accounts were neither shared
with the defense nor mentioned during trial.
Also, as previously mentioned, James Rowell, the man who
had pointed the finger at Shareef, completely recanted his accusation.
With a case that consisted of nothing but one
"positive" and two "tentative" eyewitness identifications (one from a
restaurant worker and the other a tourist), the prosecutors sent an innocent man to death
What followed was an outcry. People from all over the
world stepped up to bat. Time Magazine featured a story about him called, "Dead Teen
Walking" and exposed the prosecution for what they were. Liars.
Shareef's attorney, Clive Stafford-Smith, went to work
immediately on Shareef's appeal.
On April 14, 1998, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed
Shareef Cousin's murder and death penalty convictions. The court cited the prosecution's
improper use of hearsay but unfortunately did not address the prosecution's withholding of
clearly exculpatory evidence. Shareef was granted a new trial, set for January 11, 1999.
On January 8, 1999, just three days before Shareef
Cousin's new trial was to begin, the New Orleans District Attorney's office dropped the
murder charges against Shareef. Up until the final moment before dropping charges,
prosecutors tried to persuade Shareef to sign a confession saying that he murdered Michael
Gerardi. They pressured him, promising reduced time. Shareef refused to admit to this
crime he did not commit.
Shareef remains incarcerated due to a past plea bargain to
four counts of robbery, coerced from him around three years ago, when he felt his future
was hopeless. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently denied his appeal on the robbery
charges. If that conviction continues to be upheld, Shareef would be required to serve
nine years. Shareef's lawyer, Mr. Stafford-Smith is appealing to the Federal courts.
The New Orleans Police Department has reopened the investigation into Michael Gerardi's
For further information, please visit Shareef's website
[back to top]
Innocent but Ten Years on San Quentin's
Edited by Clara A. Thomas Boggs and Stormy
My name is Lee Max Barnett. I used to be a bit of a
hell-raiser. I lived in the mountains near Chico, California, where I dredged for gold and
mixed with some pretty dubious people. I am no saint. For example, I have used an alias
name several times to avoid paying taxes, and I used to grow marijuana. Twelve years ago I
was framed for a murder I did not commit. I have spent ten years on Death Row in San
Quentin State Prison an innocent man.
Let me give you a brief explanation of how it happened. If you think it rings true perhaps
you will look further into my case. I could use your help.
In the summer of 1984 a large quantity of the marijuana I was growing was stolen. When I
learned that the thieves were Bill Cantwell and his friends, members of a local biker gang
who manufactured liquid methamphetamine (crank oil), I decided to take their drugs. When
Richard Eggett, who knew the gang, led me to the laboratory I took 25 gallons of crank
oil, worth over a million dollars, intending to hold it until they returned my marijuana.
You won't be surprised to hear that Cantwell and associates came after me. A year later
while traveling with Richard Eggett, who they correctly suspected of having helped me find
their laboratory, they came upon my camp. They jumped out of their truck with guns drawn.
I happened to be in the trees by the latrine, and I also had a gun because of rattle
snakes, bear and boar in the area. I fired a shot in the air and told them they were under
citizen's arrest. I then disarmed them, tied them up, and bargained with them over what
should happen now. They agreed that if I untied them and went off to get their crank oil
they would no longer pursue me, and would give me a share of the drugs. I went off but I
When they realized I was not coming back they turned on Richard Eggett. Bill Cantwell had
told his friends that he tortured Eggett for information on the whereabouts of the drugs
and that he then stabbed Richard Eggett to death. They then framed me by falsely stating
that I had beaten and threatened to kill Richard Eggett.
My trial was a farce. State witnesses lied, and the appointed Defense Attorneys did not
look for witnesses who were present. These witnesses would have told the jury that the
State witnesses were lying and that I didn't beat, or kill the victim. Two of Cantwell's
friends, who testified for me, stated that Cantwell had told them he had framed me, but
the silver-tongued prosecution argued that they were lying, and the witnesses were not
No one testified that they had seen me kill Eggett, though they falsely claimed they had
heard Eggett crying in pain when I was alone with him. That forced me to take the stand to
testify that they had lied. The lawyer appointed to defend me did not defend me. He
allowed the prosecution to ask improper questions and he behaved as a second prosecutor,
arguing that I was guilty. He also tried to dissuade Cantwell's friends from testifying in
my favor. I was found guilty of the torture, kidnapping, robbery and murder of Richard
Eggett. This was based on the lies of the State's witnesses and on the arguments of the
prosecutor and appointed attorney. The charges of kidnapping (a citizen's arrest, made in
self-defense) and torture ensured that I received the death sentence.
After The Trial
In January, 1992, Bill Cantwell shot himself in the head and died. This happened shortly
after he confessed to Kenneth Clumpus that he had killed Eggett. Clumpus later told Bill
Cantwell (untruthfully) that he had secretly taped this confession. Cantwell replied that
he was not prepared to go to prison for the murder. The suicide of the real murderer
leaves me as the only person to blame.
My appeal, earlier in 1998, was no more successful than the original trial. The appointed
attorneys were forced upon me and they neglected to raise over 200 serious errors. I have
obtained an enormous amount of material in my defense, including sworn statements from
several witnesses swearing to my innocence and to Cantwell's guilt, but the appointed
appellate attorneys would not use much of it unless I paid them more. My State-appointed
attorneys are now asking for $100,000 for investigations to support my final appeal. This
sum is completely beyond the means of my family, but if I do not pay it they say they will
confine the evidence to material already used in my earlier, unsuccessful court
appearances, and I'll be executed.
I hope the above has at least convinced you that I was denied a fair trial and that
reasonable doubt exists in my case. I had no motive for killing Richard Eggett. He was a
friend who had led me to Bill Cantwell's liquid methamphetamine lab. If I had wanted to
kill any of them I would have killed Cantwell or Hampton, the ones who were out to get me.
On the other hand, Cantwell, who is well known to have been a violent and extremely
dangerous man, did have a clear motive for killing Richard Eggett. He was furious to have
lost me and he knew that Eggett had helped me steal his drugs. I believe he vented his
frustration and anger by torturing and killing Richard Eggett.
If you wish to read more -- i.e. witnesses' statements and newspaper articles which
support my case and all the above statements -- I will be glad to provide them. As I said
at the start, I am no saint, but I am not a murderer or a torturer. I have spent twelve
years facing death for a crime I did not commit. I urgently need defense funds to
Please send a donation to
Lee Barnett c/o Walther
New Lebanon, N.Y. 12125 USA
I append abbreviated, but otherwise unchanged, extracts from the sworn statements of two
witnesses who testified for me in 1993.
You may write directly to Mr. Barnett at:
Lee Max Barnett
PO Box E-03100
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974.
Extracts From Declaration Of Kenneth Clumpus
I, Kenneth Clumpus, declare as follows:
I was interviewed by Lee Barnett's defense investigator. I told the investigator many
facts about the murder with which Barnett was charged, facts which were related to me by
Bill Cantwell, and which indicated Barnett was innocent and Bill guilty of the murder,
having framed Barnett for the murder of Rich Eggett because he thought Eggett was involved
with Barnett in ripping off 25 gallons of liquid speed from Cantwell. He said it was crank
oil. For quite some time after I testified at Barnett's trial, anytime Bill Cantwell saw
me, he would call me "a rat" for repeating what he told me about setting Barnett
up for the murder beef. During one of those name-calling incidents I said "No, you're
a piece of s**t for lying against Barnett and putting him on Death Row for a crime he did
not commit!" Cantwell said: "He shouldn't have stolen my dope." I told him
he was really low for blaming Barnett for a murder he himself committed and some day he
would go to prison. Cantwell did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or
alcohol and I reminded him that he had admitted to me that he killed Eggett the last time
we spoke together. Cantwell said to me: "Yeah, I killed Eggett, but nobody can prove
it, so f**k you."
Several days later I saw Cantwell again by a liquor store and I decided to make him sweat.
I told him I had a tape recorder on me when he admitted killing Eggett. Cantwell became
very concerned and offered me several pounds of crank for the tape (which didn't exist). I
told Cantwell that I had given the tape to Barnett's new lawyer and it was too late, that
his arrest was going to occur soon. Cantwell said he wouldn't go alive and would blow his
own head off before going to prison. I am making this declaration because I believe what
Bill Cantwell told me about Barnett's being set up for the murder of Richard Eggett, and
that Cantwell was the killer himself. I feel it is very wrong for an innocent man to have
been sentenced to death. I only want this terrible mistake and the miscarriage of justice
corrected and that Barnett not be executed of imprisoned for something he didn't do.
I declare under the penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct except as to
matters based on information or belief, but as to those I believe them to be true.
Dated April in 1993 Kenneth Clumpus Notary Public (signature) Sworn to before me this 2
day of April 1993 Stamp of Judy N Brownfield Notary Public California Butte County
Extracts From Declaration Of Jacek Jerzy Gabryelski
I, Jacek Jerzy Gabryelski, declare as follows:
I met Lee Max Barnett in 1984 while I was living in Centerville, in Butte Canyon, at the
junction of Helltown and Centerville roads. The "Junction" was strategically
located and served as a stopping place for many gold miners going in to mine and coming
out of the canyon with their gold. Lee Barnett was particularly noticed by me because he
engaged me in lengthy conversations dealing with his inventions, experiments and
observations of a geological nature, where gold most likely could be found and about his
mining techniques. I shared with him those interests and found him to be a fascinating
individual. I briefly saw Lee Barnett two times again around spring of 1986 at a machine
shop belonging to Kyle Riley located on East Avenue in Chico...
The second time, I witnessed Mr. Barnett get run down by a Cadillac on East Avenue close
by the driveway of the machine shop. The car was going really fast as it swerved and
struck Mr. Barnett. It then slowed down and turned around but it did not stop, then it
sped away. From this action it appeared that it wasn't an accident and that someone was
either trying to hurt or kill Mr. Barnett...
When I later asked Kyle Riley what this was all about, and why no one called the police,
he told me that Barnett was at odds with some bikers because he stole from them and that
they were trying to kill him. Riley said that going to the police would be a waste of
Some time after the incident in the driveway of Kyle Riley's shop David Clumpus informed
me that Lee Barnett had been arrested for the murder of Richard Eggett. He said he knew
that the police had the wrong man because Bill Cantwell and possibly others were the real
killers. David Clumpus said Cantwell and his friends tried unsuccessfully several times to
kill Barnett, and since Cantwell could not get Barnett, he decided to kill Barnett's
partner, because he thought Eggett was also involved in the theft of his drugs. He
reasoned that if he could not get the stolen stuff back, then he would make them pay,
Eggett with the ultimate price and he could blame the murder on Barnett. Apparently,
Eggett was murdered somewhere around his mining camp above Forest Ranch during, after or
at some time at a party or gathering that had taken place there. David Clumpus was privy
to these facts because he knew many of the people involved.
After hearing from David Clumpus about the events surrounding the murder of Eggett, seeing
Barnett get run down... I realized that they were telling me the truth about the killing
incident up in the mountains and all the other events matched the pattern. While living in
Cohasset, in the early part of 1987, I became acquainted with many people who lived in the
area. Among others I met Edward (Eddie) Lee. Eddie did not have a car so I at times would
him a ride into town. On one of our trips into town Eddie asked me to drive him to his
cousin's house in Chapmantown because his cousin owed him money.
After we got there I was introduced to Bill Cantwell who was intoxicated and
belligerent... He started to threaten Eddie by telling him that he did not have to pay him
any of the money if he did him like he did that "motherf____r" Eggett. He seemed
very angry one minute, then he was not. Finally Bill and Eddie came to an agreement that
Eddie could take a chainsaw as partial payment for the money Bill owed him. We went to the
back yard where Bill said we could find the chainsaw in the tool shed. While in the back
yard I noticed a Cadillac that I saw run over Lee Barnett. The car was so distinctive that
there was no mistake it was the same car that ran over Barnett.
On the way out, Bill's wife or girlfriend said to Eddie that she was really worried about
Bill because he has been drinking more and more, taking more drugs than ever, and then
stay depressed for longer and longer every day. She said he was paranoid that somehow he
would be caught for killing Eggett and that the whole thing was eating him alive. She said
that he would beat her, and she was afraid he might kill her one day. It was a well known
fact to all of the people who knew about the personal war Bill Cantwell waged against Lee
Barnett, that it was Bill Cantwell who killed Richard Eggett, but people were so afraid of
Cantwell and his friends that no one involved with him would come forward to tell the
This was primarily because people knew that Cantwell was violent and that he was arrested
many times for crimes of violence anyone else would have gone forever to prison, but he
somehow always got out of it and continued to terrorize people. It was well known and talk
around Chico that Cantwell killed other people and dumped their bodies in the Sacramento
River... Chico is a relatively small town and everybody knew about everyone else's
business and any news would spread really quickly around town.... From my personal
observations while I knew Lee Barnett, I can wholeheartedly say that he was not capable of
killing, or a type of person that would hurt someone for any reason. It absolutely made no
sense for him to kill Eggett. He was always friendly and good natured... He was always
ready to help people he hardly even knew when they needed it. He spent many hours helping
me work on my vehicles and around my residence for no compensation other than a thanks. I
saw him on several occasions helping people stranded with their vehicles on the side of
Dated New York, New York, December 23, 1993 Jacek J. Gabryelski Sworn to and subscribed
before me this 23rd day of December Lawrence W. Schilling Notary Public
[back to top]
What forces drive a man like Martin Yant to repeatedly
work with great passion to free innocent people? He has lost sleep, money, peace of mind,
and many other things people hold dear, and this year a few more innocent people will
thank God that there is a Marty Yant in this world.
When Martin Yant became editor of The Mansfield News Journal in 1978 at age 28,
he was the youngest editor of a daily newspaper in the United States. Since graduating
from Georgetown University in 1971 -- three years behind Bill Clinton -- Yant had earned
the reputation in Pittsburgh and the Chicago as a newspaper whiz kid and he was well on
his way to meeting his goal of becoming editor of a major metropolitan newspaper by the
time he was 40.
The first telephone call Yant got the first day in his new position changed those plans
"Are you going to cover up all the corruption in this town like the editors before
you," a woman asked after welcoming Yant to Mansfield.
"What are you talking about?" Yant asked skeptically.
"Just look at all the dirt under your rug and you'll know what I'm talking
about," the woman said.
It didn't take Yant long to learn the woman was right. But he didn't have to look under
his rug to find Mansfield's corruption. Other callers quickly swamped him with information
about widespread corruption in Mansfield, to which he had been attracted after his Chicago
newspaper portrayed it as the typical American town.
What had seemed like a dream-come-true job quickly turned into a nightmare as Yant sought
to expose a corrupt and brutal sheriff's department; a coroner who stole from the dead and
endangered the lives of the living at his private medical lab, which routinely fabricated
the results of medical tests to save money; a national foundation that had collapsed with
several million dollars missing; and a prosecutor who probed or prosecuted those who got
in the way.
When the publisher -- who turned out to be intricately involved in the town's corruption
-- cut off Yant's exposes, Yant resigned and started The Ohio Observer, a
crusading citizen-owned daily newspaper to continue the job. Before it was over, the
sheriff and seven of his worst deputies went to prison, the coroner and several other
crooked politicians were forced out of office and the private lab was closed.
But Yant's victory was bittersweet. The continual threats on his life, the destruction of
one of his paper's buildings by arson and large financial losses caused by threats on
sponsors and circulation sabotage eventually cost Yant almost all that he held dear,
including his marriage.
Yant learned much about the seamier side of life in America during his widely publicized
crusade. One of the sheriff's smaller abuses of the system that Yant exposed -- the
framing of a potential political opponent so he could not run against him -- didn't seem
all that important at the time. But when Yant looked back on the events after he was
finally forced to leave Mansfield and took an editing and column-writing job at The
Columbus Dispatch, he realized how the sheriff had demonstrated just how easy it was
for an innocent person to be convicted in the American criminal-justice system.
This realization inspired Yant to write a column about the research of C. Ronald Huff, a
prominent criminologist at Ohio State University. A recent study of wrongful
convictions by Huff had arrived at a frightening, but conservative estimate that several
thousand Americans were convicted every year for serious crimes they did not commit.
Thanks greatly to the concerns expressed by Huff about this then-dirty little secret, Yant
found himself hooked on the subject. He realized that each of these wrongful convictions
was a major tragedy, and he began regularly writing about them.
When Yant broke the story in Ohio about Columbus native Randall Dale Adams' wrongful
conviction in Dallas and how the soon-to-be-released film Thin Blue Line proved
his innocence, he became so interested in the subject that he wrote a proposal for a book
on the subject titled Presumed Guilty, and Prometheus Books immediately
offered him a contract.
After the book was published in 1991 and Yant had a second contract to write a book on the
Persian Gulf War titled Desert Mirage, Yant left The Dispatch to begin
investigating wrongful convictions himself.
His first case was in a remote area of West Virginia known as the Mountaintop, where
rookie sheriff's deputy Paul Ferrell was railroaded for the murder of Cathy Ford, who had
disappeared in February 1988. Ferrell was convicted in a farce of a trial even though no
one ever had seen him with the missing woman.
Yant's investigation of the mysterious case, in which he developed evidence that Ford
might actually be alive, took six months and over a thousand interviews with people in 17
When he was finished, the local paper reneged on its promise to publish a six- part series
on the case because of his explosive revelations, which included recantations from several
key witnesses. Yant then decided to publish the story himself in a special magazine called
The Public Eye, which sold several thousand copies in the sparsely populated area
and got the story exposure on Montel Williams and Unsolved Mysteries.
Residents of the Mountaintop, most of whom believed Ferrell was innocent, were outraged by
what they read, and that helped gain Ferrell's release pending a much delayed evidentiary
Ferrell was returned to prison in 1997 after the biased trial judge ruled against his
claim of innocence, but his attorneys are hopeful that an imminent federal court ruling
will soon free Ferrell for good.
Since that first case, Yant's investigations have freed several other innocent inmates.
The best known of those cases was the release of Jenny Wilcox and Robert Aldridge in 1996
after Yant obtained the recantations of three of the six children who testified against
them in a 1985 child sex-abuse trial and uncovered a 28-page report full exculpatory
information that was never turned over to defense counsel.
Several other cases Yant has investigated are now nearing evidentiary hearings that he is
hopeful will lead to the release of more innocent individuals this year. Yant is currently
investigating about 20 other apparent wrongful convictions, including three death-penalty
Yant also has worked hard to make people aware of injustice in America through many
appearances on numerous TV and radio talk shows; had a second investigation featured on Unsolved
Mysteries and another on The CBS Evening News; In 1992, Yant served as
a consultant for Final Appeal, an NBC-TV series on wrongful convictions.
In his "spare time," Yant is developing a revolutionary new version of The
Ohio Observer that will be automatically delivered by the Internet and automatically
printed out each morning for subscribers throughout the state. Like its Mansfield
predecessor, the new Observer will concentrate on covering what the rest of the
media cover up, including, of course, wrongful convictions.
Martin Yant has written four books:
Presumed Guilty: When Innocent People Are Wrongly Convicted
(Prometheus, 1991) shows how carelessness, investigations that fit facts to theories, the
use of long-discredited investigative techniques, prejudice and the desire of police and
prosecutors to "win" at any price cause several thousand mistaken convictions
for serious crimes every year. "Yant...clearly has the evidence to prove this
thesis," The Library Journal said. Syndicated columnist Bob Greene wrote: "In a
world that prefers to be satisfied and complacent, Martin Yant retains the one attribute
that many journalists have lost: He gets angry."
Desert Mirage: The True Story of the Gulf War (Prometheus, 1991)
documents how the Bush administration deliberately deceived Americans into supporting the
pursuit of power disguised as the pursuit of principle at a cost of hundreds of thousands
of lives. Kirkus Reviews called the book "a carefully documented, scathing indictment
of the Persian Gulf War... in the best tradition of contrarian investigative
journalism." Foreword by Sen. John Glenn, who called Yant "a journalist's
Rotten to the Core: Crime, Sex and Corruption in Johnny Appleseed's
Hometown (Public Eye, 1994), a personal account of what Time called a
"painful victory" by a "persistent editor" over corruption in a
typical American town. "Every citizen...ought to read this book," Steve Allen
wrote in his foreword. Added Akron Beacon Journal columnist Steve Love: "[Yant] gives
journalists a good name."
Tin Star Tyrants: America's Crooked Sheriffs (Public Eye, 1995)
unmasks those who use their tin stars as a license to lie, cheat, steal, frame innocent
people, beat and kill. "An eye-opening exposé." Publisher's Weekly.
"Corruption and brutality in law enforcement are explored expertly here."
[back to top]
The Case Of Shasta Roever
Shasta's case is important to me.
Shasta (Lerlene Roever) befriended my daughter shortly after both arrived at the
Nevada Women's Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada. There was only a tiny handful
of women among the hundreds who claimed to be innocent, so a special friendship grew
between my daughter, who had only begun her life when tragedy struck, and Shasta, whose
children were teenagers. In an eerie twist of fate, my daughter's tragedy came on January 9,
1993, and Shasta's misfortune came scarcely a week later. Shasta tells her own story here,
but I became involved after Kirk Vitto, her prosecuting DA, paid an unexpected visit to my
daughter. I spoke to him the next day, and then again the last week of February. I will
share the results of that conversation at the end of Shasta's story.
Clara A. Thomas Boggs
"...I was crying loudly and begging Ian,
"Come back to me!" "Come back!" "Don't you dare die on me!"
After a while, it finally dawned on me that my CPR efforts weren't doing anything.... This
was the man I loved!"
I Did Not Kill the Man I loved
By Lerlene Roever ("Shasta")
On Jan. 16, 1993, my fiancée, Ian Wilhite, and I were watching television with my three
children. Ian was tired from a long work week, and relaxed on the couch with his head in
my lap. By 9 P.M., my younger children had gone to bed and my oldest son, Dominic, and I
talked about his problems at school with girls. Time elapsed and Ian awoke and reminded us
of the hour. Dominic went to bed, Ian went to bed, and I turned off the TV and lights and
also went to bed.
When Ian had a few drinks, he would often shove against me in bed and get grumbly. We
drank rum and cokes that night (his usual three to my one), so when I finally got under
the covers, he shoved at me and I just didn't feel like arguing with him about it. We had
a sofa bed in the living room for just such nights, so I once again went back out of the
bedroom turned on the TV, fixed up the sofa, and soon fell asleep.
There had been stormy weather for a couple of days and that night there was plenty of
rain, lightning and thunder, which sounds louder in a mobile home than in a conventional
home. During the night, my youngest son, Raymond, awakened me to ask why the back door was
open. This door didn't always catch right, so in my drowsy state I assumed the wind had
blown it open again. I mumbled to Ray to close it. He did, then cuddled with me for a few
minutes before going back to his bed. My daughter, Jeanine, later told investigators that
she witnessed all this because she had wandered out minutes before, turned the TV off, and
sat on the other couch (love-seat) without my knowing it. Now I think the murderer must
have entered and left, leaving the door open.
The next morning, after waking, I went into the bedroom to get dressed. A drawer creaked
as I opened it, and I turned quickly, fearing I had disturbed Ian on his Saturday morning
chance to sleep in. He appeared to still be asleep, but I felt a strange and unexplainable
feeling come over me that something wasn't right. I went to him and touched his shoulder.
He was cold. With an electric blanket on and covering him, this did not make sense to me,
and the creepy feeling increased. I turned him onto his back and saw he was too pale and
his face didn't move. When I was a child my mother once took an overdose of pills and she
looked just like this. I thought she was dead. Seeing Ian like that frightened me and I
panicked. I ran through the trailer screaming hysterically, "He's dead! My God,
Ian's dead!" Dominic came out of his room, pulling on his robe and asked, "Are
you sure he's not breathing?" Not breathing ... CPR! I ran back in and began CPR
procedures, but not too well because I was crying loudly and begging Ian, "Come back
to me!" "Come back!" "Don't you dare die on me!" After a while,
it finally dawned on me that my CPR efforts weren't doing anything. This was the man I
loved! I turned him back onto his side and covered him up again. I guess I somehow thought
that if I could warm him up, maybe the paramedics could bring him back. I really don't
know what I thought then.
Next I called the local Sheriff's Department by punching the preset button. I was so
hysterical that the woman who answered the phone kept saying, "I can't understand you
ma'am" and, "You need to calm down ma'am." I finally handed the phone to
Dominic, who was more composed and could speak more clearly than I.
He told the woman that Ian was dead and that we were reporting a murder (Dominic thought
he saw bruises on Ian's back, which later proved to be lividity), and gave her directions
to our home. Soon deputies arrived and forced me to remain in the living room for nearly
12 hours with no one to talk to other than police. They denied me any medical care and
repeatedly questioned me. That night, the coroner arrived and they took Ian from the
trailer. I saw them drop him once and bang him into the back door frame. After that, I was
allowed to go to the neighbor's home because I just couldn't handle being alone in there
for the night.
I was questioned again at the neighbor's the next day. On January 18th, I was arrested.
The coroner stated that Ian had been shot by a .22 caliber weapon. Since I owned a .22
caliber Astra handgun, I was singled out. (It was my mother's, given to my grandmother,
and I had taken it away from her when she began to show the first signs of what I thought
was Alzheimer's Disease.) This, plus my supposed "mental state" (the
"state" for which they refused to give me medication) were the reasons given for
arresting me. Ballistics tests later determined that the Astra was not the weapon used.
Even though extensive searches were done on the property, including metal detectors, and
it was accepted that I had not left the property during the night, had no wet clothes in
the house, and owned no clothes dryer, I was still not released.
Ian had explained to me and to my Uncle, Floyd Draper, that his life had been threatened
while he was living in Las Vegas, and that was why he had moved to Pahrump, Nevada, in the
first place. He went into more detail with my uncle than he did with me about the details.
But this was why he was referred to as "Buddy" in Las Vegas, and by his real
name in Pahrump. He also didn't tell anyone in Vegas exactly where he lived until four
years after moving, when he even asked me to draw up a couple of simple maps for a friend
Ian worked in Las Vegas, but commuted the hour or so to work. After his death, I was told
he had been frequenting some of the adult entertainment places in town and had maintained
his old lifestyle of drinking, drugs and strippers. I had known of a couple of times he
had gone to "strip bars" whileon lunch break from the elementary school where he
worked. We argued about it. He said he wouldn't go anymore, and there wasn't much more
said about it until the deputies and other investigators asked me about Ian's past and his
life, and if I knew anyone who might have a grudge against him.
At the first trial, I was advised not to testify. My public defender told me, "The
State has the burden of proof, and there is absolutely no evidence against you. So unless
you have a burning desire to testify, I wouldn't recommend it." He even assured me
that it was not for me to defend myself -- that since I was innocent, there was nothing to
defend. This is why I didn't take the stand. During this trial, several of my
Constitutional Rights were deliberately violated: the State's key witness, the main
investigator, lied on the stand. Then during cross-examination, he impeached his own
testimony: he chummed up to and chatted with the jurors at the various breaks during
trial. His excuse was that it was in the only smoking area in the court building, but this
man was present all days of the trial, and never needed to share the area with the jurors
before or after our questioning of him. After a mere five days in court, including jury
selection, I was convicted of 1st Degree Murder with the use of a deadly weapon, and
sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms, with the chance of parole after 20 years minimum.
My Public Defender filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court and, in August of 1995,
the unanimous decision came down to overturn the conviction due to the errors and
violations that took place during the trial. It was also noted that, "there was no
physical evidence to link the defendant to the crime." They also remanded me back to
the same court for a retrial.
By the time of the next trial, I was adamant about testifying, and I did. However, the
effectiveness of my testimony was severely compromised because my public defender avoided
and/or refused to ask the important questions regarding Ian's background and associates,
as well as many other things the jury needed to hear to make a fully informed decision.
Furthermore, these important points weren't even broached during the trial. I felt that my
attorney put on a mere token of a defense. He refused to subpoena anyone on the two-page
list I gave him, and even insulted my uncle, the only witness who was there for me. I was
convicted again, given the same sentence, and am again sitting in prison awaiting the
results of another appeal. This time the district attorney admitted there was no evidence,
and the weapon still has not been found to this day, so he felt justified in trying me
based on whatever stories or opinions his witnesses could fabricate about my character.
In a press article, the DA himself said he did not believe these stories about me were
"However, Chief Deputy D.A. Kirk Vitto argued in his response to the Supreme Court
that ultimately, the truth behind the stories is immaterial. In fact, he said, prosecutors
assumed the stories weren't true." ("Third time thecharm for PV murder
case?" -- Pahrump Valley Times, May 23, 1997.) I am certain that this conviction will
also be reversed and overturned. I must admit that this time I am praying that the Supreme
Court Justices will simply end this matter and this travesty once and for all.
Some points to consider in my case:
My attorney himself told me that he, the judge and the sheriff are all very good friends.
"Best of Buddies," is how I think he put it.
Before the second trial, my public defender refused my phone calls, and for months
wouldn't answer letters I wrote to him. I didn't even see him until the first day of jury
selection. When I wrote to the judge to complain and express my concern over this and
other things amounting to my complete dissatisfaction and lack of confidence in my
attorney's abilities to put on the best possible defense for me, I requested that a new
lawyer be assigned. The judge brought this up to me and stated that he was denying my
request, and that Harry was the best defense attorney, and that he (the judge) had full
faith that Harry would do the best job for me. I was not permitted to specify any of the
My first trial was a mere five days, the second trial was only 6 days long -- and both
periods included the time-consuming process of jury selection.
The District Attorney deliberately had witnesses testify to events or circumstances that
either never occurred and were easily verified, or could have been disproved with minimal
checking. One woman stated that I had told her I had killed my own mother and a baby. My
mother actually drowned, with occlusive arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries
contributing to her death. There was an investigation on this. I did lose a child at birth
years before. He was born at a hospital with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
The doctor said it was asphyxiation. I made the mistake of telling the neighbor I went to
stay with that I just didn't think I could handle much more death in my life, and told her
about my mom and my baby boy. She perverted my sharing of my tragic history on the stand
and, without opposition from my lawyer, made my personal and sad losses seem morbid and
tawdry. My ex-husband, whom I had thrown out for lying to me and stealing from me years
before also was called to testify against me to tell lies that my son even stated were
lies. My ex's mother was called to discredit my character in any way she could. A woman
who once admitted to me that she was in love with Ian and wished he would be interested in
older women came up with some tales that I hadn't a clue about. Nothing was said about
there being no evidence, no motive, and no weapon.
Everything was focused on destroying my character, defaming my reputation -- in short,
getting the conviction regardless of what is truth, right or just in a court of law. Shock
tactics and lurid and blatant falsehoods presented to prejudice a jury is certainly not
proof of any guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
On September 2, 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court once again unanimously overturned my
conviction. I found out 11 days later through a friend who read the newspaper article, and
not immediately through my lawyer.
Justices Young, Springer, and Rose commented in the main body of the Opinion that,
"Much of the bad act evidence admitted was so inflammatory,speculative, and utterly
fantastic as to bear practically no probative value." Citing case law, they further
stated, "Accordingly, even if clear and convincing evidence established the existence
of these acts and the acts were relevant to the crime charged, we conclude that any
probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice as a matter
of law." They concluded that admitting this "evidence" served only to
violate my fundamental right to a fair trial.
The "bad act evidence" referred to the false testimonies given by a neighbor and
my ex-husband, evidence which a minimum of investigating would prove to be the lies they
The jurors had stated their concern about the lack of evidence, but felt the
circumstantial evidence was enough for a conviction. That same circumstantial evidence was
what the Justices ruled responsible for violating my rights and being highly prejudicial.
Obviously they were correct. The jurors were swayed enough by these lies and the he-said
she-said stuff that they were able to overlook the facts of no weapon, no motive, no gain
for me and, as the Supreme Court stated in the first conviction overturn, "there was
no physical evidence to link Roever to the crime."
Justices Shearing and Maupin differed on particular points, but also concurred to
overturn, affirming that my rights were violated. This is twice now that Assistant DA Kirk
Vitto feels he can do anything -- regardless of the law or morality and ethics -- to
gain the conviction of an innocent woman.
After I received confirmation of the overturn, Mr. Vitto came to the prison and
extensively questioned my roommate, my daughter (another innocent victim of our justice
system), about me. He still sought to discredit my character. Since this is nearly 6 years
later and my roommate didn't know me in January, 1993, when this travesty began, his
interrogation of her can only be construed as deliberate persecution. That's how my daughter
felt during his interrogation. She also felt that Mr. Vitto was trying to alienate us from
each other with his lies and half-truths. Several other people have said the same after
hearing about this. Obviously this man is not "seeking the truth," as he claims,
but is willing to use any means to hang onto his conviction. The same day Vitto was at the
prison, my belongings were thoroughly searched (the first time in nearly 6 years), and Mr.
Vitto knew about it and just happened to speak with the same guard who searched my room.
On September 15, 1998, the District Attorney filed a Petition For Rehearing with the
Supreme Court. He contends that all five Justices are wrong about particular points and
wants the chance to show them their errors, and that he is right.
In our Opposition to Respondent's Petition for Rehearing filed September 17, 1998, my
public defender wrote, "The State's miscarriage of justice 'served only to violate
Roever's fundamental right to a fair trial'." He further wrote, "The net effect
of a petition for rehearing is that Roever will languish for an additional six months or
so in prison while the remittitur is delayed. This court had the benefit of two rounds of
appellate briefs and oral argument before reversing this travesty. Counsel for the state
now asks for a third round. How many times must this court countenance the state's
inability or unwillingness to accept what, to the rest of us, is crystal clear? Certainly,
sanctions against the state in a published opinion will serve to further educate the Bar
and the tiny minority who do not comprehend."
If a proper investigation had been conducted in the first place instead of immediately
targeting me and railroading me, Mr. Vitto and the misguided D.A may have found their
"truth." As it is, too much time, taxpayer money (now approximately over
three-quarters of a million, folks) and effort has been spent to destroy a woman's life,
family and naive belief in the police, state investigators and the court system, only to
prove nothing, because I am innocent of this crime. I now have complete disgust for
prosecutors (such as Mr. Vitto) who profess to be Christian while lying, conniving, and
ignoring truth for a conviction for their esteemed "record."
Since I've repeatedly refused all plea bargains offered by the prosecutors (I'm told if I
had accepted a plea, I'd likely be out by now), it seems that the State and the court
prefer a conviction of any kind over justice or truth. I know my case is in no way unique.
Many are being abused and victimized by a system that we, as taxpayers supposedly pay to
protect us. I am trying not to become embittered and cynical by this whole mess and am
dependent upon the Lord to vindicate me. I sure can't count on honesty, ethics, or
integrity in a courtroom.
I appeal to anyone interested to please write your major newspapers, the Nevada Attorney
General, TV and radio stations, the Nevada Supreme Court and anyone else you can think of
who will make a stand against this deliberateabuse of our legal system and to decry the
continual persecution of a woman who only wants to try to pick up the pieces of a
shattered life. Since I was repeatedly offered a plea-bargain which would have made me
eligible to get out years ago, it is obviously not a case of my being a threat to anyone,
but a pride issue with the prosecutor.
Thank you for your interest and your prayers and support. If you are not wealthy, famous
or politically powerful, what happened to me could happen to you. Injustices such as this
should not be allowed in our modern and enlightened times. Our "protectors" must
not be allowed and/or encouraged to destroy lives and violate our basic Constitutional
rights, and perpetuate more lies and pain for the innocent for self-seeking reasons.
I would love to hear from anyone who would like to say howdy, and will answer any and all
questions. Thank you for caring to read this from a 40-year-old woman who desperately
misses her children and life as she once knew it.
Contact Lerlene "Shasta" Roever: 34972
Nye County Detention Center
1520 E. Basin
Pahrump, NV 89048
You may also contact Shasta's uncle,
210 N. Leslie
Pahrump, NV 89048
NV Phone: (775) 727-7557
In Los Angeles, CA: (323) 221-0286
From the Editor: Someone from a men's prison wrote to tell Shasta he knows who killed Ian
-- a man who calls himself "The Shadow." Shasta's uncle, Floyd Draper, has this
letter. After Kirk Vitto had interrogated my daughter last September, we had a
long telephone conversation. I was warned that Vitto could lie convincingly, for he
misrepresented several facts to my daughter in what now seems was an attempt to trap her into
revealing something he could use against Shasta. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for his
disarming first words. When I first identified myself, his tone was indifferent. When I
told him who I am, he warmly exclaimed, "Your daughter is a
delight!" On that footing, we spoke amiably. Still, I pressed the issue, but
could get no further than his saying that he was determined to keep prosecuting Lerlene.
Now, calling him almost six months later, I had different questions. According to Shasta,
Vitto knows about a man who confessed to the murder. This was the issue I now pressed. I
was stymied again. Kirk Vitto maintains that he only acknowledged that the defense
informed him that they have a letter saying someone else killed Ian. He also told me that
he knows for a fact that the man in question didn't kill Ian. When I asked how he knew, he
said he couldn't discuss it.
Meanwhile, there is a new wrinkle to Shasta's case. Sharon Dockter, co-counsel with Harry
Kuehn, went to work for the D.A.'s office. Shasta was granted a motion to take Kuehn off
the case, and Vitto has assigned the case to Kevin Pasquale, who, Vitto told me, will
continue to vigorously prosecute Shasta. At the same time, Shasta will finally get her new
attorney, Rick Lawton, of Fallon, Nevada. Shasta may not be much better off: Lawton is six
hours from Shasta, and so far he has only briefly introduced himself.
If there is an investigative reporter in our audience, please consider looking into
Shasta's case. You may contact me, or Floyd Draper at the phone number given above.
Clara Alicia Thomas Boggs
Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted
[back to top]
The Story of Thomas Harris
Edited by Clara A. Thomas Boggs and Stormy Thoming-Gale
The seven year nightmare Thomas Harris has been forced to
call "life" is a fantastic tale that begins with the best intentions and ends
with an innocent man behind bars.
In May of 1991, Thomas and his pregnant wife, Candida,
moved themselves and their five year old daughter, Susana, from Mexico to Texas. A few
short months later Thomas received a phone call which would change their lives forever.
Thomas was recovering from major surgery in September,
1991, when the Texas Department of Human Services, Division of Protective and Regulatory
Services (TDHS-PRS) contacted him and asked him to explain an allegation of "Sexual
Abuse" committed against his oldest daughter, Susana. Stunned, and still
recuperating, he explained that he knew nothing of the allegations nor of any abuses in
the home. TDHS-PRS came to his home, demanded that he leave (which he refused to do), then
took Candida Harris and their daughters to the Hays/Caldwell County Women's Shelter.
Candida was arrested for "sexually molesting"
both of their daughters in March, 1992. The incident was witnessed and charges were made.
She went to jail, the girls went to foster care. Thomas was never asked if he wanted, nor
was he offered,custody of his OWN children. When Thomas discussed all this with PRS
caseworker Mary Toms (of the New Braunfels, Comal County office), she blatantly told him
that if he did not file for divorce, he was as guilty of the charges against his wife as
Thomas filed for divorce immediately. At his divorce
proceedings, Susan Miller, Candida's lawyer, brought up false events, complete with dates
and times. The witnesses present on Thomas' behalf were prevented from speaking, as were
the doctors who had been treating him on ALL of the dates Susan Miller indicated.
When Candida was released from jail she initiated a
reunion. Thomas relented. They decided the best way to get their children back from foster
care was to give their marriage another try. Things did not go smoothly for them. Thomas
was a student. When he wasn't in classes, he was either in the campus library or in one of
the labs. Candida was angry that he was away so much and began accusing him of having
affairs. A month or so later, baby Sara (who turned seven in 1998) was returned to them.
She had been in foster care for almost 9 months. A few days after the baby was returned,
Thomas arrived home from school to a silent house. Candida had left.
What Thomas did not know is that Candida had poisoned some
of the food in the house. He found out the hard way -- he succumbed to poisoning and
almost died. Candida had put Boric Acid into the sugar. Small dosages over a period of
time began to degrade Thomas' nervous system, mimicking Multiple Sclerosis. Five years
later, he still suffers from some of the residual effects. Much to his wife's surprise,
Thomas recovered. He decided to proceed with the divorce.
At the custody hearing, Sole Managing Conservatorship was
granted to Candida. Thomas did not have an attorney to help him and Judge Charles Ramsay
almost always granted custody to the mother.
At the hearing, Ms. Miller, Candida's lawyer, continued
telling stories about Thomas being domestically violent. There are NO records of any
abuses, only Ms. Miller's words on the court transcript. Candida didn't and doesn't speak
English and barely spoke in the courtroom. Pastor Carl Culpepper served as Candida's
interpreter and colored the few words she did say with incorrect translations. The outcome
of the custody hearing was that Thomas was to become Possessory Conservator and maintain
visits on Wednesday nights and 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends.
Thomas went to pick up his children in May of 1995. They
were not there. He returned home and called several times. Three weeks later, while Thomas
was repairing the computer at Carl Culpepper's house, Mr. Culpepper let it slip that
Candida was in Mexico. Thomas asked about his children, but Mr. Culpepper would not say
anything else. When Thomas returned home, he called the Police and the FBI. The Police
located the children a day later and returned them to him.
Because Candida had been out of the country for several
weeks, Thomas filed for custody and it was granted. However, Ms. Miller, Candida's
attorney, somehow convinced Judge Linda Rodriguez to return the children to their mother
again. Even though a higher court had ruled in Thomas' favor, the threat of contempt and
incarceration forced his hand again.
Unknown to Thomas, a safety plan had come into effect. In
May, 1996, Candida's boyfriend had fondled Thomas' oldest daughter, Susana. Candida was
told to stop seeing this man and to prevent any and all contact between him and the
daughters. Because she violated this plan the state had already decided to remove the
children from Thomas' ex-wife. The children were once again returned to foster care.
In August, 1996, while in court on the child support
issues, Susan Miller learned from the Family Law Master that her actions regarding the
order to return the children to Thomas' ex-wife were improper, so she took another action.
She convinced Candida to accuse Thomas of sexually abusing their youngest daughter, Sara.
Thomas Harris ended up in jail.
Innocent, but in jail. Judge Charles Ramsay assigned a CASA (Court Appointed Special
Advocate) to oversee the PRS actions and advocate on behalf of the children. The CASA was
appointed in September, 1996, but it was not until the end of November that advocate
Connie Peña, an Hispanic female, tried to get in touch with Thomas. Ms. Peña had many
visits with Candida, according to her own statements. Ms. Peña, however, contacted Thomas
by telephone only after he called her supervisor asking why contact had not been made.
During the telephone conversation, Ms. Peña asked Thomas
what happened. He replied that these were false accusations against him. She said she had
different information and asked Thomas to tell her his version of the events. Thomas
explained that there was a witness who knew that the events as stated in the PRS records
were untrue. Peña asked him to identify this person and was quite offended and abusive
toward him when he refused. Thomas ended the conversation, explaining that he would
discuss nothing more with her until he had spoken to his attorney.
The next morning, while Thomas was in court yet again, his
attorney, Mark Jenssen, told him NOT to discuss anything with Ms. Peña and not to trust
her in any way. That same morning he also explained to Thomas that the state had told him,
"that should [Thomas] plead guilty, they were going to try to get him sentenced to 50
years in jail."
Thomas Harris' trial began on May, 19, 1997, with jury
selection. The state then began its case. The state called a total of five
"witnesses": Two, Candida Harris and Sara Harris, gave questionable testimony.
Another, Dr. Jennifer Driscoll (from Central Texas Medical Center where Sara was first
examined), interestingly, was the same doctor against whom Thomas had begun malpractice
suits in 1993. Could her testimony have been retaliation? According to Thomas, Candida
Harris' interpreter was not accurate at translating her testimony, and her questions and
answers had been rehearsed. At one point, Candida said SHE was sure that Thomas would NOT
have done anything to Sara. The DA objected, saying Candida could not have correctly
"understood" the question and repeated it. Candida replied differently the
second time. Thomas Harris' attorney, Mr. Jenssen, should have objected, but didn't. Next,
Sara Harris was asked a few questions. She was held on the lap of her foster mother and
was positioned so that she could not look over or around the Judge's bench to see Thomas.
At first, Sara said Thomas had done nothing. When the question was repeated, she
contradicted her first response. Again, there was no objection by the defense. Mr.
Jenssen's questions had been screened and censored by the Prosecution AND the Judge during
pretrial the preceding Thursday. Mr. Jenssen asked Sara only a couple of questions:
"Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?" "Yes" she
said. "Do you love your Daddy?" "Yes," she said. "Do you want to
see your Daddy again?" "Yes," she said. Mr. Jenssen had no further
questions. Court adjourned.
The following day, the defense began calling its
witnesses. April Brown, character witness for Thomas, testified for almost an hour. She
called the trial "a kangaroo court" and a "travesty of justice." The
Prosecution had no questions for April, perhaps because Mr. Jenssen mentioned her
experience as a paralegal, a student of Criminal Justice, a single mother and a dedicated
friend of Thomas' and the children for almost 4 years. Shawn Lowary testified next, saying
that it was impossible for the alleged events to have occurred at Thomas' house on the
weekend in question, because Thomas and he had spent the entire weekend at his home. The
Prosecutor then grilled him to get him to state that he was "involved" in the
offense and, when that failed, to persuade him that he was "perjuring himself"
by providing an alibi for Thomas. Thomas was then allowed to testify but his attorney only
asked a few questions: name, address, income, education. Next, Prosecutor David Watts and
CPS attorney Angela Goodwin questioned Thomas for almost 3 hours. They asked about his
medical problems, his time in Mexico, his income, his internet mail and website(s), his
relationship to, and knowledge of, Texas Fathers' Alliance and VOCAL, about the
"stories" that Alice Robinson Bond, an assistant attorney general in Ohio, had
heard about his Defense. (Ms. Bond took the information she learned about Thomas through
an internet forum for the falsely accused, and sent it to Texas authorities. Thomas had
joined the forum to get help against false accusations.)
Defender Mark Jenssen's closing arguments were inept and
weak on Thomas' behalf, lasting a brief 5 minutes. Prosecutor Watts, however, dramatically
brought up Thomas' arrears of $1,132 in child support, his disability and inability to
find employment while downplaying almost 4 years of college education. For almost an hour
Watts pleaded that the jury sentence Thomas to the maximum time and fine -- 99 years and
$20,000. After only one half hour of deliberating, the jury sentenced Thomas to 50 years
and $10,000. Thomas sits in jail now. He is falsely accused and wrongly convicted. When
Thomas' case came up in the Court of Appeals on August 3l, 1998, his lawyer filed for an
Evidentiary Hearing via a Habeas Corpus, based on Morris' Affidavit of Sara's retraction.
Please read the following affidavit:
Affidavit of Morris A. Esmoil, III, July 15, 1998, as
recorded by Cynthia S Pressley, Notary Public. (Mr. Esmoil is the Home teacher to whom
Sara told her account.)
"On 18 June 1998, I visited the home of Candida
Harris to visit with Susanna and Sara Harris in the capacity of "Home Teacher"
for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Previous to this visit, Candida
Harris had voluntarily told two lady missionaries from the same church that Sara had told
her that her X-husband, Thomas Harris, who was in jail for molesting Sara, had not done
it. As an acquaintance of Thomas and wanting to know the truth about what had happened, I
planned to talk to Sara myself if I could. I told Sara that some judges were reviewing her
Father's case and they may let him out of jail, have the sentence stay as it is or have a
re-trial. She said that she did not want to see her Father because he was mean to her. I
then asked if he had bothered her. She said no. I asked if someone else had bothered her
and she said yes but that some people had told her to say it was her Father so that he
could be put in jail. I asked who and Sara said that Susan Miller had. I asked who else
and she said Trine Rodriquez. I asked Sara if I could write this information down and she
said I could which I immediately did while talking to her. /s/ Morris A. Esmiol, III 15
July 1998 - The State of Texas - County of Hays - This instrument was acknowledged before
me on July 15, 1998 by Morris A. Esmoil, III. /s/ Cynthia S Pressley - Notary Public,
State of Texas."
Mr. Thomas Harris will only awaken from his seven year
nightmare when justice is done in his case. If you want to help, Thomas asks that you
please lend your support by calling the Hays County Judges and by writing to the Senators
and Representatives of Texas.
Thomas Harris 793685
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107-9606
[back to top]
An IQ of 51 qualified Anthony Porter for a hearing to see if
he was competent enough to be killed by the state. After 17 years on death row, the first
break came for Porter when Professor Protess and his students showed the state that
another man had committed the crime for which Anthony Porter might have died.
With this story about Anthony Porter, writer William
Kreuter makes his debut as a contributing writer on the pages of Justice Denied. William
Kreuter is Amnesty International's death-penalty abolition coordinator for Washington
state, and he serves on the steering committee of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the
Protess' Journalism students bring freedom to death row prisoner
by William Kreuter
Authorities in Illinois scrambled for damage
control when an inmate who had come within two days of execution last September, Anthony
Porter, was exonerated and released this February.
This turn of events followed a conference held in Chicago last November that featured
dozens of the more than seventy persons released from death row since the 1970's because
they were innocent. (The conference did not directly address those, like Jesse Tafero in
Florida or Wayne Felker in Georgia, who were executed despite the doubtless evidence of
Although the most ardent death-penalty supporters are casual about the possibility of
executing innocent people, clearly the public at large is more than a bit queasy about
these executions. During coverage of the November conference by the national media,
death-penalty proponents were on the defensive. Their claims that the conference only
proved that "the system works" -- because the innocent prisoners were eventually
freed -- were easily refuted by such stories as the Ford Heights Four. Those prisoners,
two of them on death row, were set free not by the diligence of prosecutors or courts but
by the efforts of college journalism students completing a class assignment. Cook County,
Illinois, in March, settled with the Ford Heights Four for $36 million as damages for
their outrageous prosecution and many years of false imprisonment.
Then this winter, Anthony Porter was freed through the work of another set of students
taught by the same investigative journalism instructor, David Protess. Porter's execution
was stayed last year by the Illinois Supreme Court, not because of the innocence Porter
had always maintained, but to hold a hearing to establish if he was mentally competent to
be put to death. Illinois law requires that inmates understand their punishment before
they are executed. In August, 1998, Anthony Porter's IQ was measured at 51, which would
have made him the most severely mentally retarded prisoner killed since the 1967-1977
national moratorium on executions ended. The mentally retarded are often easily
manipulated by prosecutors and police -- indeed, the whole capital punishment system in
the US depends on the indigence or incompetence of its defendants.
Porter's competency hearing began on February 1. On February 2, the findings of Professor
Protess, his students and a private investigator working with them became public.
The senior journalism students had pored over transcripts and court records from the
trial. Among the discrepancies they noted was that the state's key witness, William
Taylor, testified that Porter, who is right-handed, used his left hand to fire the fatal
The state's case against Porter depended on Taylor, who testified that he saw Porter,
about five hundred feet away, fire his pistol in the dark of night. Just after the
slayings, Taylor told police only that he had seen Porter in the park at the time the
victims, Jerry Hilliard and Marilyn Green, were shot. Taylor's story later accrued
The students went to the scene of the crime to investigate. Holding transcripts of the
trial, they re-enacted the crime: they stood precisely where Taylor testified he had
stood. In broad daylight, they couldn't see the face of the person standing where the
killer had fired the gun, proving that Taylor's testimony was false, as he recently
admitted. No one has explained why the prosecutor didn't perform the same simple test the
The climax of the investigation came in a videotaped interview with Alstory Simon on
February 3, conducted by one of the students and the private investigator. On tape, Simon
admitted to the killings, saying he'd shot Hilliard in self-defense while arguing over
drug money. He said he accidentally killed Green. Alstory Simon's estranged wife and her
nephew signed affidavits implicating Simon as the killer.
On February 5, after living on death row for
seventeen years, Anthony Porter was released on bail pending likely dismissal of all
charges. Two days later Alstory Simon was arrested and charged with the 1982 killings.
Porter's exoneration immediately renewed calls for a moratorium on all executions in
Illinois. Capital punishment supporters who are giving some consideration to this call
include Chicago's Mayor Daley, who was the district attorney whose office initially
prosecuted Porter. Governor Ryan issued a series of confusing statements, and at one point
his spokesman implied that it was Professor Protess' fault for taking seventeen years to
assign the case to his students.
The same day Porter's competency hearing was suspended, February 2, a coalition of defense
attorneys and activists called for an independent investigation into the cases of an
additional ten men on Illinois' death row, saying their prosecutions were built on
confessions obtained by torture committed or overseen by a police official who was fired
in 1993. One of these ten is Aaron Patterson, whose case Professor Protess is also
Porter's exoneration was the tenth in the past two decades in Illinois; only Florida, with
nineteen, has been forced to free more from its death row. Then, hot on the heels over the
Porter and moratorium flaps, the state acknowledged that another man had been wrongfully
sent to death row. Steven Smith's conviction was thrown out by the state supreme court due
to insufficient evidence of guilt. With Smith, as many men -- eleven -- have now left
Illinois' death row by exoneration as by execution. Nationwide, Smith is the 77th
death-row prisoner exonerated since 1973. This comes to more than one for every seven
Cara Rubinsky, one of the four students who worked to free Anthony Porter, said, "One
of the things I've learned from the class which I'll take with me as I start a journalism
career is that journalists really need to do this kind of stuff. Basically, the press just
reported it at the time -- Porter was arrested for this murder and nobody cared. It was a
couple of people on the south side. People get killed there regularly."
[back to top]
FRAME UP THROUGH FANTASY
A LOOK AT A KERN COUNTY "SEX RING"
Case Account written by Nicholas Peters
This case is about John Stoll, Grant Self, Margie Grafton, and Tim Palomo, who were
accused of molesting a group of male children over several months in the middle
1980's. The Kern County District Attorney called them a "sex ring." At the time
Kern County was going through a period of hysteria over alleged satanic sex rings which
supposedly inflicted severe abuse on many children in the county and even sacrificed
infants to the devil. The result was that a great number of persons without criminal
records were charged and convicted of vicious child abuse on the basis of scanty and
contaminated evidence and sentenced to long prison terms. Many of these convictions were
overturned by higher courts. However, in this case the injustice of a false accusation has
not yet been remedied.
The alleged molestation was said to have
occurred in Kern County, California, where the defendants lived. The trial started on
September 24, 1984. The state evidence was almost invariably faulty, false, or irrelevant,
yet was allowed to be presented in the court room against them. The four defendants were
convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Since that time, Margie Grafton and Tim
Palomo's convictions have been overturned. Unfortunately, John Stoll and Grant Self remain
in prison today because of the contaminated, even fantastical, evidence.
At the time of his arrest, John Stoll was a gas plant foreman for the Jon William Bras
Engineer Company which owned and operated a natural gas plant. John Stoll also owned a
small construction company he had started where he worked after his foreman job and
on weekends. Grant Self worked as a laborer for this company.
John Stoll and his wife, Ann Karlan, divorced in 1980 and after a very bitter divorce and
custody fight Stoll obtained joint custody of their son, JD. Joint custody was unusual in
Kern County in the early 1980's, and Stoll's former wife took the court decision very
badly. Karlan and her pastor (whom she dated at the time) later instigated the complaint
John Stoll owned a house in which he rented
out rooms. At the time the molestation case developed, the rooms were rented to
Robin and Mandy Garrett.
The house had a big in-ground pool that
was a big summer attraction for two or three other neighborhood children who often came to
play. Stoll's son, JD, came over every weekend. Stoll often entertained
friends at his home and Tim Palomo and Margie Grafton with their two sons DG and AG, were
also frequent visitors. DG was five, the same age as JD. AG was seven.
Stoll's girlfriend and her daughter, age ten, were often present. Tim Palomo was a
long-haul truck driver, driving propane tankers at the time. His girl friend, Margie
Grafton, was a computer programmer for the Prudential Life Insurance Co.
Grant Self rented the pool house that was part of Stoll's rental house. Self had a
few prior troubles with the law and his parole conditions forbade him to be around
children. After renting the pool house, Grant Self moved to live with his girlfriend and
her two children, yet he continued to rent the pool house to comply with the terms of his
parole. At the time none of the other defendants was aware of Grant Self's parole status.
When JD left John Stoll's house to return to his mother's home, his mother, Ann Karlan,
and her pastor boyfriend questioned him extensively about what occurred at John Stoll's
house. At one time JD told them Grant Self had touched him and DG on the outside of their
pants. With this information, Ann Karlan filed the original complaint.
When Karlan filed her complaint, Kern County was in the midst of an hysteria over child
abuse and child abuse "sex rings." Spurious Accusations about child abuse in sex
groups or multimember groups of adults were directed against people without criminal
records who held steady jobs and supported families. In these cases, concocted and
contrived evidence was all that was necessary to send men and women to prison with long
sentences. In this case, as in others, the Kern County authorities turned a simple
complaint against one person into an accusation of a monstrous multi-offender sex ring.
Kern County officials accused John Stoll, Grant Self, Tim Palomo and Margie Grafton of
forming a "sex ring" which molested children. They were accused of molesting
five boys over a period of several months. Three of these children were JD, DG, and AG.
The other children, CD and VM, had played in the pool.
Judge John Jellitch presided at the September, 1984 trial. Steve Tauser was the
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the trial was the children's testimony. It became
apparent that the minors learned they could lie while testifying under oath in criminal
proceedings without any penalty or censure, even with the approval of parents, social
workers, law enforcement officials and the prosecutors. A cavalier attitude existed among
the prosecutors and social workers toward the solemnity of their oath. Thus the entire
testimony of the children was tainted.
After the trial, JD and CD both made public statements that they lied during both the
preliminary hearing and the trial. The testimony of the other three minors is extremely
AG and DG admitted they lied during the preliminary hearing on matters of great substance.
A major problem in the four defendants' trial was that AG prevented the defense lawyers
from cross examining him in any meaningful way. To virtually every defense cross
examination question asking for specific information he replied "I don't know,"
or "I don't remember." Whether he did this by choice or instruction after having
spent a great deal of time with prosecution-provided therapists is a matter for
VM was clearly unqualified to testify because he failed to understand the nature and
obligation of the oath to truthfully answer all questions. When VM was questioned by Ron
Jackson, John Stoll's attorney, VM stated that it is okay to lie, that he did not know
what the oath was, and that it is OK to make a mistake in facts while testifying. Further,
in violation of court orders, VM spoke to his mother and a prosecutor about his testimony
when the court was in overnight recess. Before the overnight recess, he denied there had
been any act of sodomy, but after the recess, VM claimed several acts of sodomy took
In general, the children were inconsistent in describing the alleged acts of sexual
molestation as to the time, location, adults involved and children involved. Rarely did
two children agree on the details of a single act of molestation. They described
incredible acts -- incidents of anal intercourse that would have been impossible. Other
acts of sexual activity they described would have been done in a highly unlikely fashion.
The testimony of these children was not corroborated by any physical evidence.
One of the five children, VM, had never been in John Stoll's house, yet at trial he
claimed he had been in the house five times and narrated improbable episodes of sexual
molest that occurred there. At cross examination this witness could not describe a single
item in the house and did not know the living room from the kitchen.
Deputy Connie Ericsson interrogated the children about the alleged sexual molestation
before the accusation and trial. He was and remained an ill- trained police
officer. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training issued a
book of guidelines, best known as the POST guidelines, which Deputy Ericsson admitted he
had never heard of, had never read and further had never taken the POST guidelines
training most other California police officers receive. It was later found that by
suggestive and leading questions, his examination of the minors fell into almost every
trap the POST guidelines were designed to avoid. In essence, he coached the minor
witnesses on what to say, regardless of the actual truth.
Some of the parents also tampered with the testimony of the children. VM's mother was
mentioned above. Ann Karlan, John Stoll's former wife, also indulged in this kind of
tampering. With partial custody of their son, Ann Karlan had the opportunity and motive to
direct JD's testimony against the defendants. She did this by improper directions and
suggestions to her son. Ann Karlan, known to have mental and emotional difficulties, often
was unable to separate reality from fantasy. Karlan had previously been committed to a
mental institution for a period. However, the court allowed none of this evidence of the
bias and delusions of Ann Karlan to reach the jury that judged the case against the
The leading and unprofessional questioning by Deputy Ericsson of the minors, the
admissions of two minors about their false trial testimony, the inability of defense
lawyers to genuinely cross-examine AG, the adult tampering with the testimony of the
children, along with the grave inconsistencies and bizarre nature of their testimony and
VM's inability to appreciate the need for truthful answers to the Court makes the entire
testimony of the children tainted and worse than useless. Hence, the main
prosecution case against the defendants is of no value.
Disturbingly, the children's testimony was not corroborated by any medical or
psychological evidence. An adult cannot rape a small child without hurting the child and
leaving wounds. Yet such evidence was not found. The defense request for medical
examinations of the children, even when offered with safeguards to protect the children
from discomfort, inconvenience, embarrassment and intrusion, was denied by the court. The
prosecution was clearly not interested in obtaining any medical evidence to support the
incredible testimony of the children in this case.
Corroborating physical evidence of multiple episodes of sexual molest was somehow lacking.
During the trial the prosecutor made numerous references to photographs of the molests,
yet no such photographs were ever found or produced into evidence. Mentioning such
nonexistent evidence prejudiced the case against the defense.
Another very troubling feature about the trial of Stoll, Self, Grafton, and Palomo
concerned the introduction of clearly irrelevant materials designed to turn the trial
against the defendants. The prosecutors were allowed to question Sheila Harvey about her
son's contact with John Stoll after the time of the alleged offenses. The prosecutor was
clearly trying to create the impression that Stoll was continuing to lure minors, yet
Stoll and the other defendants were never charged with these offenses. This testimony was
clearly prejudicial against the defense.
Moreover, the prosecutor presented as evidence numerous magazines such as Playboy,
Penthouse, and Club the police had seized from John Stoll's house after his arrest in
spite of the fact that many of the magazines had been seized from rooms John Stoll had
rented to other adults. No witness mentioned these magazines as present during the alleged
acts of molestation. This evidence was also clearly prejudicial. By using the magazines a
person possesses as evidence against him, the Kern County police and prosecutors clearly
violate any person's privacy and civil liberties. A person should be able to buy and read
any magazine he chooses without fear that the magazine will be used as irrelevant evidence
against him or her in some court trial. The trial and conviction of these defendants
became a threat to our most sacred liberties.
Another deficiency of the trial was the refusal to separate John Stoll's case from that of
Grant Self and the other defendants. Because of Grant Self's prior troubles and
convictions, he could not live with minor children. His girl friend had an apartment with
her children, but Grant could not legally live there, which is why he continued to rent a
room from John Stoll, but actually lived with his girl friend.
However, this evidence could not be presented at trial because the case against Self would
be prejudiced by testimony about, and records of, his prior legal troubles and
convictions. To refute some of the children's testimony, John Stoll testified that Grant
Self did not actually live on the property but only rented the pool house. Neither the
court nor his attorney permitted Stoll to explain why Grant Self did not live at the pool
house while renting it, namely the conditions of his parole. However, on several occasions
district attorney Tauser could and did ask Stoll why Grant Self would pay rent on the pool
house but not live there. In his final argument, Tauser held up Stoll's testimony to
ridicule and scorn. The prosecutor discredited the testimony of Stoll without rebuttal.
For reasons explained later, Stoll's attorney, Ron Jackson, did not locate and introduce
into the trial the phone, light, and gas bills that proved Grant Self did not live at the
pool house. Being unable to prove Self did not live at the pool house deprived John Stoll
and the other defendants of an effective defense. The prosecutor made John Stoll seem
deceitful, and the defense did not provide evidence to prove otherwise. Clearly, separate
trials for Stoll and Self would have been necessary to enable the defendants to provide an
Another trial defect was the prosecution's intimidation of possible defense witnesses.
When Robin and Mandy Garrett would not testify for the prosecution, Tauser threatened to
press molestation charges against Robin Garrett and put him in jail with the rest of the
defendants. Robin and Mandy then fled to Denver to live with Mandy's brother until the
trial was over. Due to this reprehensible intimidation, the only witnesses who lived in
the house and knew what did and did not occur in the house were not available to testify
for John Stoll and the other defendants.
There is also the matter of ineffective counsel for defendant John Stoll. His lawyer,
Ronald Jackson, began to represent John Stoll only 24 days before the trial. The case
against John Stoll involved the combination of two court cases. There were 70 felony
counts to be considered, numerous witnesses to locate, motions to be prepared and evidence
to be examined. Jackson asked for more time to prepare his case, but his motion for an
extension was denied. As a result, Ronald Jackson's defense of John Stoll suffered.
Jackson was unable to locate possible defense witnesses Robin and Mandy Garrett. The
utility records that could have supported some of the trial testimony of John Stoll were
also not found and presented into evidence.
Later in the long trial, John Stoll could no longer pay Ronald Jackson. Jackson notified
the court several times that he either wanted to be relieved as attorney or be the
court-appointed attorney of record. His motions were all denied. Ronald Jackson was faced
with representing Stoll without pay while maintaining his legal practice. It was clearly
in Jackson's interest to keep the trial as short as possible, but John Stoll's defense
suffered. The alleged victims of sexual assault were not recalled as witnesses despite a
prior defense request to do so. The minors would have corroborated the testimony of
Stoll's trips out of Bakersfield on many of the dates of the alleged molests. Exculpatory
utility records were not introduced.
During trial, the defense lawyers tried to call Dr. Roger Mitchell, a licensed clinical
psychologist, to testify. Dr. Mitchell had conducted psychological exams of Margie Grafton
and Tim Palomo, so he was able to testify whether those defendants possessed the
characteristics of sexual psychopaths. Dr. Mitchell could have been considered as a
character witness, yet the Kern County Superior Court refused to allow his testimony. The
defendants were denied a means to corroborate their not guilty pleas.
Later, a California Appellate Court overturned the Grafton and Palomo convictions because
Dr. Mitchell was not allowed to testify. The court found the two defendants were denied
the right to introduce exculpatory evidence that they were not sexual psychopaths.
However, the Stoll and Self convictions were not overturned. These unfortunates remain in
prison, yet the prosecution had accused all four defendants of operating as a single group
(or "sex ring," as Kern County DA Edward Jagels put it). So, if two of the
defendants are unlikely to commit the crime because they are not abnormal, is not the
innocence of the other defendants proved? The existence of the entire group or
"ring" becomes extremely questionable and not proved in any legal sense.
Other possible defense evidence was withheld at the trial. The POST manual guidelines for
interviewing children was not allowed to be presented to the jury. The District Attorney
argued that POST guidelines are optional. But in fact the POST guidelines are obligatory
for any California law enforcement agency receiving state financial aid. This is certainly
the case with the Kern County Sheriff's Department. Therefore, the POST manual was denied
to the jury as defense evidence because of the District Attorney's false assertion.
There was also gross juror misconduct at this trial. Juror Babcock, a former Los Angeles
Police Officer, told the jury that from his knowledge of court procedure he knew the
defendants were in custody despite their street clothing. Juror Babcock's comments helped
prejudice the panel against the defendants.
The trial events related here demonstrate that the Stoll, Self, Grafton, and Palomo trial
was a complete travesty of justice. The prosecution's and other adult influencing,
cajoling, and coercing of desired testimony from minor children, the absence of any
physical evidence against the defendants and the total indifference -- even hostility --
of the police and prosecution to gathering such evidence, the presentation of irrelevant
evidence prejudicial to the defendants, the lack of effective counsel for John Stoll, the
inability of the defense to present needed evidence, and juror misconduct make the trial
and convictions of the defendants a clear injustice.
Two of the defendants have been released because of an Appellate Court ruling. They have
not been retried. However, John Stoll and Grant Self languish behind prison walls, doomed
to serve long prison sentences. Justice is left undone until they are released from
prison. Their release must be demanded by people who believe in justice.
Support: John Stoll CDC D15734
Avenal State Prison
P.O. Box 9, 210-2-40L
Avenal, California, 93204
The writer of this case account, Nicholas
Peters, has created a website about Kern County police misconduct. Go here to visit his site.
[back to top]
Patrick Swiney -- From Police Officer to
Patrick Swiney, once an Alabama police officer for 13
years, is now 54 years old and is serving life without parole since 1989 when he was
tried, wrongfully convicted and sent to prison. Since then, he has endured injustice by
the courts and abuse by prison officials. It wasn't until 1996, after he had been in
prison for 8 years, that Patrick's case was investigated by Dr. Boris deKorczak, Chief
Investigator for the National Police Defense Foundation, in Washington, DC. The NPDF is
backed by Congress. Congressman Trafficant, of Ohio, is the NPDF Honorary Chairman. Dr.
deKorczak, a former CIA member, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and about 30 years of
Around the end of 1998, Dr. Boris deKorczak resigned from the NPDF to continue his
investigations of Patrick's and four other similar cases on his own -- all former police
officers, each not guilty of the crime for which they were convicted.[*]
While investigating Patrick's case, Investigator deKorczak found huge,
gaping holes in testimony and due process of law, Brady violations, each breaching the
fiduciary trust officers of the courts are sworn to uphold. Patrick had been run through
an Alabama-style kangaroo court and, apparently, that was to be the end of it. Case
closed. No more Patrick Swiney to deal with as Vice President of the Fraternal Order of
Police (FOP) when he refused to allow his fellow officers to be bad cops. The petty
vengeance of one of those officers, and his later lies in court, helped convict Patrick.
That officer testified that Patrick's mother hid the murder weapon from the police to
protect her son from being charged. The prosecutor went many steps better than that. He
called the Coroner's office and told them not to perform certain very standard and typical
examinations during autopsy. The State Medical Examiner testimony of this is recorded in
the transcripts. (TR-768) (TR-805,806, 807)
What's so important about this move by the DA? Well, the whole case is centered on
adultery. Patrick was convicted of murdering his wife and her lover while they were
committing adulterous acts in Patrick's and his wife's kitchen. Ironically, the lover
turned out to be the ex-husband of Patrick's wife. We believe the DA purposely made sure
that DNA testing was not done, thereby allowing the DNA evidence to be destroyed forever
by making sure the vaginal swab and fingernail cultures were not done. In Alabama, jurors
strive to please the officials because they respect authority. Of course, those who
question their honesty do not become jury members. Therefore, when the DA responded to the
defense attorney's statement about suppressing evidence, the DA told the Jury that these
tests were irrelevant and unimportant to the case. He stated as fact that Patrick stalked
the pair in a hot jealous rage and murdered them. He reminded the Jury of the deceased
wife's mother's testimony which proved that Patrick wanted to kill the ex-husband. At
trial, the mother said that the ex-husband told her, some time ago that Patrick told him,
"If I ever see you in my house, I'll kill you."
In fact, Patrick never met the ex-husband. If he did, he would have recognize the dead man
lying on the floor. As Patrick later related the event, at the very moment he saw his wife
and the man, he felt a blow to the back of his head, which he describes as though he'd
been hit with a baseball bat. That's the last thing he remembers until he came to and
found himself inside the house with a rifle lying across the palms of his hands, and the
two lying on the floor, shot. As soon as Patrick regained consciousness, he contacted the
paramedics, but it was too late because the two were dead from the gun shot wounds. If he
had premeditated a murder, he would not have immediately contacted the paramedics because,
as a former police officer, he knew they would contact the police. When he told the police
(most of whom he knew) he didn't know what happened because he was knocked out, he was not
sent to the hospital for an examination. Instead, he was charged and arrested for the
murder of Betty Snow and Ronnie Pate.
Another irony is that Patrick Swiney, Betty Snow and the DA went to school together and
sat in classrooms together for years. The DA had even come to their house before this
tragedy occurred, and Patrick used to joke that the DA called Betty Snow more than Patrick
ever called her. When the DA began his carefully planned conspiracy against Patrick,
things began to fall into perspective -- sort of. No one knows, except of course the DA,
why exculpatory evidence was purposely suppressed and destroyed. Only the DA knows why he
had the bond raised from $150,000 to $500,000 after the community raised the $150,000 in
one day to release Patrick. The DA told the Judge that Patrick was a transient and the
Judge raised the bond. When the community raised the larger bond in one day, the DA
quickly proceeded to the kangaroo trial.
There are many points that show fraudulent court proceedings in this case, but Alabama
courts have denied all motions for a review of the facts. Their stated denials were based
on the hearsay testimony that the General Attorney told them about. We believe this means
that Patrick's motions were not even read. The hearsay evidence that the officials say
prove Patrick is guilty of premeditated murder and should die in prison consists of what
the deceased ex- husband reportedly said before he died that Patrick said to him. Now,
Patrick never knew, or had even met this man, so he could not have threatened him in any
way, and the man who supposedly said this is dead, so he cannot confirm or deny what the
mother of the deceased wife told the court. Yet, the DA said it was fact, so the jury
convicted Patrick, and now the Courts in Alabama also claim this is fact, but when the
Alabama Courts are asked to look at the physical and verifiable facts, the requests are denied.
Following are a few examples of injustice in the courtroom during this trial
and some facts:
No Motion for Discovery was ever filed.
No blood on Patrick's clothing, shoes, jeans, shirt, skin: the DA reported this as
No evidence of gun power residue on Patrick's skin or clothing -- also reported as
The crime scene was abandoned for 24 hours.
There were no witnesses who saw Patrick shoot anybody.
No witnesses for the defense were asked to testify.
No Motion to keep all records was filed.
Exculpatory evidence was suppressed.
Jury strikes included all 5 of the only Black candidates because, according to the
DA, Blacks tend to be more lenient. (You see, the DA was seeking the Death Penalty.)
The DA reported that the murder weapon was Patrick's .22 survival rifle, but
ballistics testimony indicates that this could not be confirmed.
When we bring up these issues in our Motions, the Courts stamp DENIED on
them as though the Motions held blank pages.
While attempting to gather the exhibits and evidence presented at trial, the Chief
Investigator for NPDF only ran into blocked walls. No one in government in Alabama wants
to help him seek the truth in Patrick's case. We think this is not necessarily
"personal" toward one man, Patrick Swiney, but simply the way Alabama politics
has worked since the days of slavery. When you have the Chief Federal Judge in Mobile,
Alabama, call the US Marshal to tell him to place Patrick, a heart patient, into lockdown
(a 5 ft x 8 ft concrete cell with inadequate ventilation and heat indexes of 112 degrees
F) for having an article published (a free speech issue), without so much as one ounce of
concern for retribution, then you get a better idea of the corruption in Alabama's justice
Patrick's case is now before the 11th Circuit Court, headquartered in Georgia. The 11th
Circuit Court oversees the District Courts in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. This court has
the authority to order the Alabama District Court to look at the facts of Patrick's case
and seek the truth in his case. We don't know if they will do that, so Patrick's
supporters have begun a letter campaign. (Contact me at the address given below for a
sample letter, if anyone wants to help by writing a letter to the court).
To this day, Patrick does not know what happened the night of the tragedy. The police did
not investigate the crime. The DA ordered the Coroner not to perform DNA tests during
autopsy. Those DNA tests would have proved adultery and we wonder why the DA would
purposely suppress evidence that would prove adultery and at least allow Patrick
exoneration or, at worst, the lesser crime of passion, of a man witnessing his wife
violating the sanctity of marriage by committing adultery. The DA, incidentally, has been
accused by family, friends and community of being Betty Snow's lover. Mind you, Patrick
does not know what happened. The lies in court, the suppression of exculpatory evidence,
and a long list of violations of his Constitutional rights swept him away while he was
still dazed. It took several days after the tragedy before Patrick could say he felt
Patrick's story is longer and more complicated than I can cover here, because there is
also a history of Alabama style pay-back time with Patrick. As a policeman, Patrick was
responsible for exposing corruption among high officials. Two of these officials were sent
to federal prison for money laundering and racketeering. Patrick was convicted on
hearsay only. There is no evidence that he shot Betty Snow and Ronnie Pate. There are
witnesses who say that the DA and others lied in court. These are the people who were
never called to testify.
Patrick never met Ronnie Pate, yet Betty Snow's mother testified that Ronnie Pate told her
that Patrick told him he would kill him if he ever showed up at their house. Patrick would
not have said that because he never questioned his wife's fidelity. Ex-husbands visit
their children and that's normal stuff. Betty Snow had a teenager, but Ronnie Pate never
came to visit as far as Patrick knew, or he would have known the man who was fondling his
wife. But DA J. Michael Campbell told the jury that the hearsay was fact, that the
matter of not performing DNA testing was irrelevant and the judge and defense attorney
said nothing to object or to instruct the jury about how illegal this was in court. There
were several witnesses for the prosecution, yet no one saw Patrick shoot anyone. There
were NO witnesses for the defense, yet they could have confirmed that the witnesses for
the prosecution were lying about Patrick's character.
About Patrick's Character:
Boris Korczak from Npdf Supports Swiney
The former Chief Investigator for the National Police Defense Foundation states,
"Patrick Swiney's case is an unusual one. The justice system, being in total
disregard in observing the difference between what's right and what's wrong, sent this man
to prison for life without the possibility of parole. The lack of evidence in this case,
and the harshness of the sentence bestowed upon this man is analogous to hanging an
offender of a parking ticket violation."
Support From Ex-Chief Of Police
The former Chief of Police of Alabaster, Alabama, with whom Patrick worked for 8 years has
gone on record stating, "I support the National Police Defense Foundation's effort to
get Patrick out of prison. His was a crime of passion and it is a proven fact that with a
crime of passion, they never bother anybody else again. Because of this and because I
personally know Patrick's demeanor, I can assure you that he is not a danger to the
Universe Ex-Chief Of Police Says Not A Fair Trial
The Director of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department at the Alabama State
University who is a former Chief of Detectives and Chief of Police states, "One fact
that is evident is that this case did not meet the threshold or the legal criteria of a
capital murder case. Even the District Attorney has been quoted as admitting this. Even if
Patrick Swiney did shoot the two victims, it was at best a crime of passion which should
have resulted in a sentence of eight years. Instead, Mr. Swiney received life without
parole due to the DA's thirst for a capital case. I strongly recommend Mr. Governor that
Patrick Swiney be released. He is no threat to society."
Ex-Warden Of Prison Supports Swiney
The former President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and also former Warden of
Holman Prison and Chief of Police of Auburn, Alabama, states, "I have known Patrick
Swiney for over 20 years. I have been in contact with Patrick Swiney since the 1987
tragedy. He is a good man. Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly support your [NPDF's]
effort in obtaining Patrick's release from prison. I believe in Patrick and I know that he
can become a member of society again."
Retired Prison Official Notes Swiney's Positive Attitude
The retired Alabama Correctional officer who worked at Holman Prison where Patrick has
been serving time states, "As a former Alabama Correctional Officer at Holman Prison
I have had the ability to observe and assess him in a way and in circumstances very few
people could or would appreciate. Despite his heavy sentence he has always conveyed a
positive attitude and I submit that he poses no threat to society and in fact could and
would be a benefit to his family and society if pardoned."
Support From Department Of Transportation Chief Engineer
The Chief Engineer of Alabama Department of Transportation and former Director of ADOT
during the George Wallace administration states, "I commend you [NPDF] for this
effort as I strongly believe in Patrick's innocence for whatever reason. I knew him when
he was a policeman in Gulf Shores. As stated, I could not believe this had happened to
Patrick. I strongly believe that if he is released, he would not be a threat to society,
but would be a good responsible citizen."
Governor James Guarantees Due Process
These are the words of former Alabama Governor, Fob James: "The Constitution's Fifth
Amendment, provides that no person shall....be deprived of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law. This means that the authorities cannot not put any person to
death, or into prison, or take away his property, without first giving him a trial in
accordance with pre- established rules. When the Supreme Court interpreted the language of
the due process clause with judicial integrity and gave the clause its legally recognized
meaning, the Court held that it guaranteed to any person charged with a crime a trial
pursuant to pre-established law..."
So far, the courts in the State of Alabama have refused to abide by this due process for
Patrick Swiney. Perhaps the State Court's boss, the 11th Circuit Court, will decide to
make them abide by the United States Constitution for a change.
Contact for Patrick Swiney: Sherry L. Swiney email@example.com
[*] For further information about Boris deKorczak's qualifications,
please e-mail Dr. deKorczak at firstname.lastname@example.org
[back to story]
[back to top]
Editor Hans Sherrer
This month, we are pleased to bring you a preview of
the book, "The Innocents: the prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment
of the innocent," by author Hans Sherrer. We are publishing the
introduction only, but will notify our readers when "The Innocents" is available
to buy. Due to its length, we will publish the introduction, with footnotes, in two parts.
If you have wondered how innocent people come to be in prison, Sherrer's book will
enlighten you. You will not only learn how innocents can be convicted, but will be
wondering if it could happen to you.
Clara Alicia Thomas Boggs, for Justice Denied
You may write to Author Hans Sherrer at email@example.com
The Innocents: the prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment of the innocent by Hans
Introduction (Part One)
Over one and a third million innocent men and women are
entrapped at any given time within the confines of the criminal justice system.  While this is a staggering number, this book
documents how it is the result of innocent people being arrested, prosecuted, convicted,
imprisoned and, yes, even executed.
Remarkably, the story of this widespread human carnage remains largely untold. In large
part this is because, except for rare exceptions, the inner workings of the criminal
justice system are hidden from public view. This is due in no small part to the way
it is typically portrayed on the nightly news, in television programs and movies, and in
the daily newspaper. Contrary to the view it normally projects, what we call the
justice system functions as an assembly line designed to produce results in the form of
closed files, and not to ensure justice for the men and women who find themselves
traveling on its conveyor belt. As an elaborate bureaucracy, the criminal justice system
does everything it can to close files as quickly and with as little effort as possible.
One consequence of this is a pervasive "win at all costs" mentality among police
and prosecutors, who all too often are assisted in acts of injustice by the "blind
eye" of cooperative federal and state judges. 
In spite of the resistance by preservers of the status quo of the criminal
justice bureaucracy, a revolution in thinking about how men and women are labeled as
criminals is brewing. One trigger causing this is the increasingly widespread use of
DNA testing to exonerate men and women who are innocent of the crime for which they were
convicted. Before such tests became available, the people who are now being
exonerated could do little more than futilely proclaim their innocence while wasting away
year after year in prison. Even though the people freed by DNA testing represent
only the tip of the iceberg of those actually convicted, they provide evidence of the
enormous number of innocent people who are routinely prosecuted and convicted in state and
federal courts, and imprisoned throughout the United States.
It can be a hard truth to accept, but innocence isn't a bar to innocent people being duly
processed at each level of the criminal justice system and approved to pass onto the next
level until they are officially adjudged as guilty. It isn't an aberration when
people are falsely convicted, imprisoned and, in many cases, waiting on death row for
their date with the executioner. Rather, it is the result of the justice system
effectively working as it is designed to do. 
In spite of the injustices that DNA testing is helping to reveal, it is
important to understand that it hasn't uncovered anything new in the way that law
enforcement works to entrap the innocent in its clutches. There are many hundreds of well
known cases involving innocent people who were falsely convicted and eventually had their
innocence established through conventional means.  So
DNA analysis is only a new tool in helping to identify those men and women who, before
now, could only proclaim their innocence without any way of proving it. However,
the sheer numbers of people DNA is identifying as innocent, all of whom were duly
convicted by a reliance on normal means of ascertaining guilt, is a fact that cannot be
ignored. It also gives special significance to the fact that there have been many
men who maintained their innocence even as the hangman's noose was being placed around
their neck. The scientific developments of the last ten years show that they may
well have been telling the truth.
In other words, there are serious, fundamental, and long-standing defects in the way the
criminal justice system functions. The defects in any system are best revealed by
looking for those failures that occur from its operation in the real world. If one wants
to understand the deficiencies in the justice system, the most direct way is to
investigate its most spectacular form of failure -- which is when men and women are
enmeshed ever deeper into the bowels of its inner processes without their innocence being
detected. While DNA analysis is helping to identify a small number of these people,
it doesn't tell us anything about how it happens. Exploring how it is possible for
innocent men and women to be prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned with alarming
regularity is a central theme of this book.
This disturbing fact is of concern to everyone, not just those you might think are on the
fringes of society, because the criminal justice net hovering over America is expanding by
leaps and bounds. This is partly evidenced by the 1,000% increase in the prison population
in the United States over the past 25 years, and there is no sign yet that it is near to
leveling off.  The huge number of bodies
needed to fuel the vastly expanded criminal justice system are coming from all stratums of
American society. Not only has the number of prisoners increased from less than 200,000 in
1973 to nearly 2,000,000 today, but there are at least two compelling reasons to think
that the number of innocent men and women entombed in prisons is increasing at an even
faster rate than the general prison population.
First, all systems subject to growth pressures are prone to decreased quality
controls. The rapid and continuing expansion of the justice system has compounded
its inherent deficiencies at fairly determining someone's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This creates an increased likelihood that someone entrapped on the criminal justice
conveyor belt will erroneously be stamped as a criminal when they should have been
rejected as innocent. 
Second, over the past quarter century
there has been a mind-numbing proliferation of thousands of new criminal statutes
nationwide for previously non-criminal actions.  In general, these new "crimes," many of which are related
to "economic activities," "personal associations," and "public
behavior" provide a lower threshold of proof necessary for the government to obtain a
conviction than is necessary for crimes such as murder, rape and arson. As just one
example of this, criminologist Robert Bohm has estimated that the effect of making
marijuana and other drugs controlled substances is that as many as thirty-four million
otherwise generally law-abiding Americans have been made criminals. 
The enormous expansion of criminal laws and their enforcement have
extended the reach of the criminal justice system into the very bowels of everyday life in
America. So it is realistic to think that every adult in the United States has done
something for which they could be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned. 
This omnipresent threat of criminal prosecution is just as true for the
most vociferous advocate of law and order who thinks he or she is law abiding and a
paragon of virtue as it is for an admitted rogue. Although, as it will be shown in
the following pages, when people are innocent, their political, social, or economic
positions may enable them to defend or extricate themselves from a legal onslaught with
less personal harm than those less fortunate.
Fortunately, in recent years there have been several widely publicized events that provide
help in understanding the phenomena of innocent people enmeshed in the justice
system. Three of these events that we have been able to observe are the O. J.
Simpson criminal trial that resulted in his acquittal in 1995, the near-lynching of an
innocent Richard Jewell by the FBI for the 1996 Olympic park bombing, and the spectacle of
special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's intensive five year investigation of President Clinton.  It also needs to be noted that even though
the mass print and broadcast media has fueled wild speculation about each of these events,
the other side of the coin is that without their reporting, none of these events would be
a part of the public consciousness of America. Why are these cases important to
understanding the prosecution of the innocent? Because O. J. Simpson was found to be
legally innocent, Richard Jewell was found to be actually innocent, while President
Clinton has been investigated for suspected criminal wrongdoing.
Elements of each of these dramatic real life events vividly demonstrate how frighteningly
easy it is for anyone to become entangled in the criminal justice system as a suspect or
defendant, and even branded and imprisoned as a convicted criminal. This book is not
specifically concerned with these three real-life events from the 1990's, but as you read
of the myriad ways in which innocent men and women become victims of the criminal justice
system, you may gain a new understanding of the issues involved in each of them. As
new legal scandals unfold, and they always do, perhaps you will view them from a
perspective that may at this time seem strange. What is that perspective? That it is
not only a legal principle in America that someone is innocent until proven guilty, but
that it is a common sense principle, because all too often it turns out that someone
suspected or accused of a crime is innocent.
In our self-righteous smugness, it is easy to look at an
accused man or woman shown on the evening news being led into jail while manacled,
shuffling his or her feet with head downcast, and think, "The dirty SOB is guilty as
sin." But ask yourself what you would do if you suddenly traded places with
that person, and were transported from the comfort of your chair to being manacled and
having hundreds of thousands or millions of people staring at you on television? With the
desperation of a man dying of thirst in the middle of a desert, you would want every one
of those people to be open minded and recognize that your arrest didn't mean that you were
If you need some help imagining this, think of how in the snap of a finger Richard Jewell
went from being one of the watchers, to being one of the "bad people" he had
watched on television and made fun of up till then. Except that he wasn't one of the
"bad people." He was innocent. In the world of instant defamation we
live in, Richard Jewell was identified as "the chief suspect" and had his face
plastered all over every newspaper, broadcast by every television station, and his name
was sent out over the airwaves of every radio station in the United States. His
innocence didn't prevent any of that from happening. It is sobering to think that
if, just like him, you found yourself in the glare of the spotlight being talked about as
if you were a mad bomber, you would walk across burning coals barefoot if it would help
people to keep an open enough mind to be able to grasp that you were caught in a web of
circumstances. Richard Jewell was lucky.
Even though he was all primed and set
up as the perfect patsy to neatly solve the Olympic bombing, the enormous publicity he
received, along with the increased scrutiny by the press caused by the then-recent O. J.
Simpson acquittal, forced the FBI to never move beyond the stage of suspecting and
crucifying him in the press. As you will see in the following pages, the lack of
being guilty is normally a minor hurdle for those in law enforcement to overcome when they
want to criminally prosecute someone.
Yes, such injustices happen in the United States with
alarming regularity. Nothing more than an objectively unsupportable suspicion by a
policeman is sufficient to start the process that can culminate in your worst nightmare
becoming a reality, and start a chain of events that is beyond your ability to control or
readily extricate yourself from. When a determined policeman, prosecutor, judge or,
as often happens, all three lock onto you as "the guilty" person, your innocence
won't prevent your arrest, prosecution, conviction, imprisonment and, as has been known to
have happened dozens of times in this century, your execution.
Footnotes for Introduction:
  See Chapter 3: How Many Innocents Are There? for a detailed
explanation of this estimated figure. It includes all innocent people imprisoned in
the criminal justice system, as well as those who are jailed and on probation and parole.[back to the story]
  For a recent scathing indictment
of the culture of conviction that pervades the activities of the police and prosecutors,
see the ten-part series by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that ran from November 22, 1998 to
December 14, 1998, entitled: "Win At All Costs," by Post-Gazett investigative
reporter Bill Moushey.[back to the story]
  The Innocence Project, based in
New York, has already helped establish, through DNA analysis, the innocence of twelve
people who were waiting on death row to be executed. See: For Innocent, DNA proving
sturdy ally," Naftali Bendavid (staff), Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1997, p. 1,
Newsbank, Inc., record no. 002760D1D3CFAA9AFAB80. [back to the story]
  See e.g., "In Spite of
Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases," Michael L Radelet, Hugo Adam
Bedau, and Constance E. Putnam, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996 edition.[back to the story]
  There were 1.306 million inmates
under the jurisdiction of state and federal prison as of December 31, 1997. See:
"Prisoners in 1997," Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Department of Justice,
August, 1998 NCJ-170014. There were 652,933 inmates under the jurisdiction of jails in the
U. S. as of June 31, 1997. See: "Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1997,"
Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Department of Justice, January 18, 1998 NCJ-167247.[back to the story]
 This totals 1.959 million imprisoned men and women, while in 1973
there were 196,000 inmates. See: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Department of
Justice. From 1973 to 1997 the prison population increased from 196,000 to
1,959,000, or by %1,000.[back to the story]
  For comparisons of the criminal
justice system to an assembly line, see: "The Limits of the Criminal Sanction,"
Herbert L. Packer, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, 1968[back
to the story]
  An example of this is that just
on the federal level, almost one hundred previously non- criminal actions were made
criminally prosecutable in only two recent congressional periods. See: "The
Energizer Leviathan: Still Growing and Growing," James Bovard, Freedom Daily, Vol. 8,
No. 10, October, 1997, pp. 31-32. Quoting from the article, "Few Americans --
and few congressmen -- are paying attention to the constant growth in the federal
government's power to punish American citizens. The 103rd Congress (1993-94) passed
more than seventy criminal statutes and the 104th Congress (1995-96) passed more than
twenty more, according to a recent piece in the New York Law Journal." Another
example of this disturbing trend is that in the last twenty years, California has enacted
more than 1,000 bills that created new crimes and/or lengthened sentences. See:
"California Prisons: Singapore West?" Mark Koeting and Vincent Schiraldi,
"Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order," Vol. 24, No. 1
(1997), Issue 67, Spring, 1997, p. 47. A variant of creating wholly new criminal
offenses is increasing the severity of punishment associated with an existing
offense. An example of this is that "A 500-bed minimum-security prison is being
built in Grafton to house only drunk drivers. A new state law requires drivers with five
DUI convictions in six years be incarcerated for 2 to 18 months and undergo substance
abuse treatment. Prison officials admitted they didn't know if this prison would be
enough, since some 107,000 Ohio drivers already have more then 3 DUI convictions."
Source: "News in Brief," Prison Legal News, Vol. 9, No. 4, April, 1998, p. 14[back to the story]
  "Crime, Criminal and Crime
Control Policy Myths," Robert M. Bohm, Justice Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2, June, 1986,
p. 198. It is important to note that this estimate was made in 1986, when the
prison population was not only approximately one- third of what it is today, but a lower
percentage of the total prison population was imprisoned for drug offenses. So it is
realistic to think that if he were to make such an estimate today, he would dramatically
revise it upward, perhaps by as much as 100% -- to sixty-eight million.[back
to the story]
  See e.g., "Crime,
Criminal and Crime Control Policy Myths," Robert M. Bohm, Justice Quarterly, Vol. 3,
No. 2, June, 1986, p. 197. Quoting from this page, "Evidence indicates ...
that over 90 percent of all Americans have committed some crime for which they could be
incarcerated." With the proliferation of laws since this was written in 1986,
it is likely that the percentage is something closer to 100%. [back to the
  The Clinton investigation is
broad-based and includes many other people, political associates, business associates,
sexual playmates, and campaign contributors. Among these people are Monica Lewinsky,
Susan McDougal, Webster Hubbell, Ron Brown, Mike Espy and Vincent Foster. One
collateral effect of Kenneth Starr's years-long criminal investigation of President
Clinton has been to cause everyone even peripherally touched by it to spend massive
amounts of money on legal fees in an effort to minimize the damage to them
personally. For example, one estimate is that as of July, 1998, about twenty people
(other than the Clintons) incurred legal expenses near to or more than $100,000, while
many more have legal bills of between $30,000 and $100,000. It is estimated that
everyone subpoenaed to appear before Starr's Grand Jury incurs a minimum of $5,000 in
legal fees per visit. Altogether, it is estimated that people touched by the
investigation of Robert Fiske (the first Whitewater independent counsel) and Kenneth Starr
have spent more than $23 million in legal fees trying to protect themselves. See:
"Collateral Damage: The Personal Costs of Starr's Investigation," Robert
Dreyfuss, The Nation, July 27/August 3, 1998, pp. 11-18.[back to the
[back to top]
The Wrongly Convicted in the
Wrongly Convicted Receive 36 million Dollar
Professor David Protess, of Chigago's Northwestern University, and his students were in
the news again last week. Heroes again (see The Anthony Porter
story), Protess and his student journalists uncovered new evidence that a state
witness had lied and that other people had killed the couple in the case of four wrongly
convicted black men. Kenny Adams, Dennis Williams, Willie Raines and Verneal Jimerson, in
their 20's in 1978 when they were wrongly convicted of a gang rape and double murder of
Lawrence Lionberg and Carol Schmal, agreed to a $36 million settlement with Cook County on
March 5. Williams and Jimerson were on Death Row and Raines and Adams were serving life in
prison. The four innocent men, imprisoned until 1996, claimed that the sheriff's
investigating police hid evidence that would have helped the defense and ignored leads
pointing to the real killers because they were racists. Three other people have now been
convicted in the 1978 double murder.
A sobering fact to ponder is that eleven people have been released from death row in
Illinois since capital punishment was restored. This figure includes Anthony Porter, freed
last month also by the work of Protess' class. Although it is good to know that
Adams, Williams, Raines and Jimerson are receiving many millions for their wrongful
convictions, there is no way they can be repaid for the 18 lost years from 1978 to 1996.
They were effectively robbed of some of their most productive years. It could have been
worse -- Williams and Jimerson could have been dead by now. No money can replace lost life
by wrongful imprisonment... or death.
Prison Madness The Mental health Crisis Behind Bars and What We
Must Do About It. by Terry Kupers
Excerpted review comments about Prison Madness: The Mental health Crisis Behind Bars
and What we Must Do About it. (Jossey-Bass) by Terry Kupers.
"A passionately argued and brilliantly written wake-up call to America about the
myriad ways our penal systems brutalize our entire culture. Dr. Kupers not only diagnoses
the problem, he also offers a set of solutions. ...truths that are vitally important to
all of us." --James Gilligan, M.D., Dept. of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and
author of Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic.
"A chilling picture of how American prisons have become among the most barbaric in
the world, driving petty offenders and dangerous people alike into madness. We must
consider the madness of a public policy that routinely turns nonviolent offenders into
dangerous misfits who threaten our safety when released." -- Joseph D. McNamara,
research fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University and retired police chief, San
"Dr. Kupers reminds us that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of inmates --
particularly those who are mentally ill -- violates their rights, betrays our national
commitment to decency, and jeopardizes the safety of our communities. A splendid
book." --Jamie Fellner, Associate Counsel, Human Rights Watch.
A description from Dr. Kupers:
"Drawn from my experiences as a psychiatric expert witness in large class action
lawsuits about prison conditions and the quality of mental health care "inside,"
and as a consultant to Human Rights Watch and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept.
of Justice. I begin with the plight of the seriously mentally ill in prison -- that
population is being funneled into corrections at an unbelievable rate today, and then
suffer horrible abuses and lack of care once incarcerated. I expand from there into
an exposé of the brutal conditions, lack of rehabilitative opportunities, the horrors of
supermax confinement (where prisoners are locked in their cells nearly 24 hours per day
and are cell-fed and idle) and the fact that so many prisoners confined there are mentally
ill. I move on to the flagrant racism, the special problems of women, the horrors of
prison rape (the men by other prisoners, the women by male staff), etc. I make very
concrete recommendations, including an end to prison overcrowding (for instance by
diverting the large majority of prisoners who have not been convicted of a violent crime
and are in prison mainly because of drug abuse), expansion of rehab and education
opportunities, correction of racial disparities, zero tolerance for sexual harassment and
rape, and an end to supermax control units. Of course, along the way, I recommend better
public mental health services out in the community, and quality mental health care
Order PRISON MADNESS at your local bookstore or from the publisher, Jossey- Bass in S.F.,
In 1971, Mr. Lawyer Johnson was convicted for a murder he did not commit. The victim,
James Christian, was shot in Boston's Mission Hill project. One would think that after Mr.
Johnson had spent 10 years behind bars, a portion of that time with a death sentence
hanging over his head, he would not be anxious to go back.
Johnson was released in 1982 when a new witness came forward to clear his name. Just 10
years old at the time of the murder, Dawnielle Montiero, witnessed the crime. She knew the
alleged killer, the chief trial witness against Johnson, and was too afraid to speak out.
The actual murderer was known around the neighborhood as a violent troublemaker.
Seventeen years later, the Roxbury man continues to be haunted by the time he spent in
Johnson is currently serving a six-month sentence for drug possession at the Suffolk
County House of Correction He claims he never did drugs before entering prison as a
teenager and that he took them only as an escape from the wreckage of his life. At 47, he
is in rehab, still bitter about his wrongful conviction nearly three decades ago.
"There's no telling where I'd be today if that didn't happen," he said. "I
know I wouldn't be sitting here in prison because of drugs. When I left, they said, 'Go.
You're lucky to be getting out.' But go where? I didn't have any money. I didn't have any
skills. I always felt I was trying to catch up. I lost 10 years. You can't catch up. It
hurt. I put up a wall of not letting anybody get into my world and blocked out the pain by
getting high. Being in prison just warped my whole perception of everything."
Johnson said the push to bring the death penalty back to the Bay State has rekindled his
worst memories: monotonous days that blurred together in lockdown, the dwindling hope of
freedom, the terrifying certainty that the state of Massachusetts would one day kill him.
He said he hopes that when legislators vote on the capital punishment measure brought by
Gov. Paul Cellucci, they think of his case as a reference point.
"The only thing that can prevent future mistakes is to vote against the death
penalty," Johnson said. "I'm the perfect example. If they moved quicker, I'd be
News of Wednesday, February 24, 1999, Los Angeles:
Former Black Panther, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, who spent 27
years in prison for a murder he said he didn't commit, will not be retried. Gil Garcetti,
Los Angeles County's top prosecutor, told reporters it would be impossible to retry
Geronimo because most of the witnesses had died. Stuart Hanlon, the San Francisco lawyer
who spent 25 years fighting for Pratt's freedom, told the press he only felt frustration
and anger that it took so long when it's clear to everyone that Pratt was wrongly
Pratt, a Vietnam War vet and Purple Heart winner, claimed he was in Oakland for Black
Panther meetings when two men robbed and fatally shot Caroline Olsen on a Santa Monica
tennis court, and complained that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap
evidence that could prove his innocence. Julio Butler, a prosecution witness, testified
that Pratt had admitted to the crime, all the while denying under oath that he had any
relationship with the prosecution or law enforcement. He lied. Butler was a paid informant
of the FBI, LAPD, and the L.A. DA's Office, and received dropped charges on a violation as
well as mere probation on an assault charge as payment for his false testimony.
Other Black Panthers who say they were framed for murders they did not
commit are Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Mumia Abu Jamal. There are others Justice
Denied does not yet know about. Pratt and other Panthers blame these wrongful convictions
on a campaign by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI against the Black Panthers and other alleged
Justice Denied is not surprised that Garcetti said he stands behind the prosecutors who
tried the case and won a conviction in 1972, but are thankful that he will not seek
further prosecution. The system has a long record of not acknowledging its wrongs... and
committing more wrongs to cover the first.
We are just as committed to bettering the system.
The Editor of Justice Denied
In Indiana, Michael Weber, 44, who maintained for years that he did not
set the fire that killed his wife and four children was freed after arson charges were
dismissed. He was released on February 22nd after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms questioned the arson ruling by the state fire marshal's office.
Thankfully, two witnesses said they saw Weber in Wisconsin in the hours before the fire.
Weber, a truck driver, had told police he was on the road in Wisconsin at the time his
wife and children were killed. To the credit of Weber's prosecutors, they will now look
for other possible suspects, since arson has not been ruled out -- although the ATF did
say that the state's arson ruling was not supported with a reasonable degree of scientific
certainty. Not to the prosecution's credit is that they looked no farther
than Weber for a suspect. It is easier to accuse the handiest person than to do a
first-rate investigation. At a time when prosecutors are coming under greater fire for
shoddy work, it behooves their entire profession to cover all bases.
A Fair Prosecutor?
Wenatchee, Washington, 2/26/1999: In a remarkable move, Chelan County Prosecutor Gary
Riesen asked the state Court of Appeals to free Henry Cunningham, 50, sentenced to 47
years in prison in 1994. Cunningham, in jail for five years now, was among many others
convicted of child sex abuse in Wenatchee in the mid-1990's. Many of these convictions
have been overturned as the cases have proved defective. Those freed from their wrongful
convictions have said Detective Bob Perez conducted coercive interviews which led to their
convictions. One equation frequently noted concerning the convicted of Wenatchee is that
all who were represented by public defenders lost their cases, whereas all who sought
private counsel eventually were exonerated. Mr. Riesen admits Cunningham was denied a fair
trial, but rejected defense attorney Glenn S. Draper's claims of wrongdoing by
prosecutors, Perez and state Child Protective Services caseworkers. The court was asked to
act by Monday, March 1st, but judges may take as long as a month to decide.
The "Wenatchee Witch Hunt" has become more widely known in the last few years
largely due to the efforts of Pastor Roby Roberson. Roberson, among those who sought
private counsel, gained freedom and then worked to free others. Now about a dozen of the
original people convicted are still in prison. Between 1994 and 1995, authorities accused
43 adults of 29,726 counts of sex abuse involving 60 children. Five convictions were
overturned last year. A group made up of 60 lawyers, professors and students acting as
volunteers, called the Innocence Project, has been filing petitions to help those still in
There is a great deal of material about the Wenatchee cases on the net. There have also
been many articles and television shows devoted to individual cases, in addition to a book
by Kathryn Lyon. We direct our readers to write "Wenatchee" in their search
engines to learn more.